Snakes And Earrings Hardcover – May 24 2005
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Offsetting its highly conformist, nose-to-the-grindstone image, Japan maintains a subgenre of rebellious youth stories in literature and film. Kanehara's short novel, a winner of Japan's foremost award to new fiction writers, stands firmly in the subgenre's literary line. It has stirred a lot of sand because it includes plenty of deadpan sex, Kanehara was only 20 when it won the prize, and it is one of the first novels about Japan's newest adults, who, growing up after the Japanese economic bubble burst in the 1980s, know only a society no longer able to promise that good jobs will be especially remunerative or even obtainable. Lui is a freeter, or independent young adult, living on part-time jobs and affectlessly clubbing, drinking, drugging, and screwing. She meets literally fork-tongued Ama. She decides to have her tongue done likewise and becomes Ama's noncommittal lover, boffing tattooist Shiba on the side and never learning Ama's real name. Violence, heavy drinking, and death eventually disrupt this drama of youthful degeneracy that steadfastly rejects romanticism. Ray Olson
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"A powerful portrait of the post-bubble generation" New York Times "A picture of an eccentric world that clearly passes on what goes on in the minds of young women today: a radical depiction of our time" -- Ryu Murakami "Kanehara is an instant star" International Herald Tribune "Snakes and Earrings cuts straight to the heart. Will leave you absolutely exhilarated and begging for more. Kanehara is a new voice who owes absolutely nothing to anyone and reinvents the novel afresh" -- Matt Thorne --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
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People always think that nineteen-year-old Lui Nakazawa, the narrator of SNAKES AND EARRINGS, is an orphan, but her parents are alive and well. There is "no trouble" in her family, she says, but her own destructive actions prove otherwise.
"Barbie-girl" Lui meets the tough-looking Ama in a Tokyo club and is drawn to his forked tongue. He explains the painful and bloody process to her, and she decides she too wants a forked tongue. Soon, Lui and Ama are an item, and she moves in with him. Before long she is also involved with the sadistic tattoo artist Shiba and then witnesses Ama beat a man to death (giving her the man's teeth as a token of his love for her). Lui seems ambivalent toward both Ama and Shiba and ponders such sad thoughts as who she would let kill her if she decided she wanted to die.
However, it is Ama who dies, the victim of horrific torture and rape, and finally Lui shows the emotion that surely has been just under the surface for a long time. But is she mourning for Ama himself or the loss of the idea of him? And if she really loved him, why does she choose to build a relationship with the man who surely killed him?
Kanehara's novel is short, 120 pages in a small hardback format, but it packs a powerful punch. Lui's story is one of disturbing alienation both from herself and those around her. No wonder everyone assumes she is an orphan; she seems rootless and needy. Lui's search for emotional feeling and connection is painful to read about because the closest she is able to come is with physical pain and practically anonymous interactions with people. After Ama goes missing she realizes that she didn't know anything about this man she was living with: she didn't know his real name, where he worked, if he had a family --- she only knew about his body and that he seemed to care for her.
Still, the point may be that Lui has not given up looking for emotional depth in the face of the emptiness she feels and experiences. That is, she is not quite yet a lost cause. But the reader senses that she is close to giving up on herself and the world. Lui does not grow or change over the course of the novel; she merely experiences as she moves from one tragic situation to another.
Kanehara's literary voice is raw and honest. SNAKES AND EARRINGS is a tale full of murder, sadism and body modification. It is a graphic, disturbing and scathing commentary on Japanese youth culture. Yet it is, in its way, enthralling and definitely powerful. It is not a novel for everyone in that it is unconventional and may even seem lurid to some readers. But for adventure readers, it is recommendable, especially as it is the first work from Kanehara, who has a promising career ahead of her.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
Hitomi Kanchara's 25,000 word novella is tightly organized and cleverly turned. I almost believe it. However, questions nag: What does Lui do with the transformed Shiba-san and herself now that she has sloughed off her old self? What values does her recovery imply? Are they a true dramatic answer to the bracing punk ethos that animates the first hundred pages? The atrophied sex life of the heroine and her new consort is symptomatic of a potential anomie as bad as the nihilism of the opening.
Ms. Kanchara sidesteps the confrontation toward which she has been leading, covering up the evasion by paradox. The march to nothing that drives the first hundred pages requires either a further extension toward death or a more filled-in affirmation. Unlike _L'Histoire d'O,_ to which _Snakes and Earrings_ bears superficial resemblance, this story of nihilism goes on a little long (it could end with the discovery of Shiba-san's potential treachery) or not long enough (if the author could imagine the life after the death of Ama.)
Still, it's a diverting fifty minute read.
If raw, explicit sexuality in your leisure reading doesn't make you uncomfortable then this may book may be worth your while - especially when considering that it shouldn't take more than 1 hour for the average reader to finish. Just keep in mind that at times the imagery and description conjured can be shockingly racy.
Also, much has been made of the fact that Ms. Kanehara won the Akutagawa Prize (Japan's top literary award) at the ripe age of 20 for this slender work, so some of you may be curious about this work based on that merit alone. For this reason alone I would recommend giving this work a try as long as you don't find the subject matter too objectionable.