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Snakes And Earrings [Hardcover]

Hitomi Kanehara


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Book Description

May 24 2005
An underground world.
A murder.
An international phenomenon.
Snakes and Earrings. . . .

Describing a world as amoral and fascinating as the landscapes of Less Than Zero and Trainspotting, this novel about a young woman living in the violent world of Japan’s underground youth culture is both shocking and strangely beautiful.

Enchanted by the snake-like tongue of a stranger called Ama, nineteen-year-old Lui takes a walk into another side of life. On the Tokyo streets, she finds a world where pain bleeds into pleasure. Where day fades into night. And where right turns into wrong.

An international bestseller.
Winner of the Akutagawa Prize.
Translated by David James Karashima.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton; 1st edition (May 24 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525948899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525948896
  • Product Dimensions: 18 x 12.7 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 227 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,115,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

"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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling, Scathing, and for Everyone. May 23 2005
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Many of us were taught in English class that the theme of most novels can be understood as either "man against man," "man against nature" or "man against himself." And we are told that by the end of the novel, the main character should experience growth as a result of one of the above struggles. But post-modern realism does not concern itself with the convention of protagonist growth. A good example of such a novel is SNAKES AND EARRINGS, the award-winning first novel by Japanese author Hitomi Kanehara.

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
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stark but beautiful Feb. 14 2007
By Tessa Zeng - Published on Amazon.com
This novella deals with the subjects of sadism and the meaning of life, which is as unlikely a pairing as any, but somehow works.

I found the story to be utterly odd, definitely explicit and vulgar for much of the 120 pages, but also containing unexpected beauty on every page.

I don't think it's fair to make completely black and white assumptions about this edgy book, because it gives one plenty to think on.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just a fantasy Feb. 1 2007
By JOSEPH OLEARY - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a diverting sizzler, but I did not feel it had anything much to do with social reality in Japan today. The only placename in the book is Shinjuku, and the family background of the protagonists is not even sketched. The isolation of the characters is less a reflection of an alleged underground milieu, than of the fact that they are simply creatures of sexual fantasy, not rounded novelistic characters. After their wild sado-masochistic antics the story has nowhere to go but to a slick trick ending, ungrounded in what precedes, and an equally ungrounded shift into soft sentimental tones as the two survivors in the gruesome threesome seem to foresee some sort of married life together. The author is in the funky tradition of Tanizaki, the postwar nikutai (body) writers, Mishima, the young Oe, etc. Will she develop into a substantial novelist? Hard to say. But let's hope she never loses her crackling tempo.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great story, TERRIBLE ending Dec 29 2006
By Michael Jake - Published on Amazon.com
All the other reviews pretty much hit on the theme of this book, but I felt I had to point out the ending, which is probably one of the most cop-out and contradictory endings I've ever seen in a book. The feelings Lui has when she discovers what happened to Ama are described in detail, and then within the space of maybe 2 pages, she has totally changed her mind and the book just ends abruptly. The rest of the book was fascinating and maturely written, the ending seems like it was written in five minutes by a angsty and confused teenage girl, which I guess it was, but a MAJOR disappointment when compared with the rest of the book.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better Without the Eyes Oct. 28 2006
By Roger Lathbury - Published on Amazon.com
How does a disaffected, suicidal nineteen year old so wholly alienated from the world that she is able to feel only in a sado-masochistic relationship reconcile to the conventional world? How can such a person retreat into what Dickens in _Little Dorritt_ dubs "a life of modest usefulness"? The answer seems to be: by loving her boyfriend's possible murderer, with whom she has betrayed him but who turns out to possess the same basic, caring impulses as she.

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.

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