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Vibrator [Paperback]

Mari Akasaka
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 12 2007
Rei Hayakawa, a lonely, bulimic freelance writer with a drinking problem, wanders through a convenience store. She's swaddled in her coat and scarf, her thoughts - of alienation, of hunger, of the need for gin and white wine - drifting in via stream-of-consciousness. A trucker named Okabe walks in, deliberately grazes her behind, and Rei's cell phone, set on vibrate, goes off over her heart. Rei gets into Okabe's truck with him - and stays. Suddenly she finds herself embarking on a road journey across the wintry landscape of Japan with a complete, and possibly dangerous, stranger. But can the physical relationship that develops between them give Rei what she needs, and can she ever free herself from her self-destructive tendencies? Both parties are wounded, guarded and distant - can they learn to trust each other? Author Mari Akasaka brings her trademark wordplay and vivid imagery to this compelling story of an unlikely pairing set against the bleak backdrop of Japan's highways.

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From Publishers Weekly

A 31-year old Japanese journalist finds refuge from her self-destructive impulses with a long-distance trucker in Akasaka's American debut. (She has published three novels in Japan.) Narrator Rei Hayakawa—bulimic, alcoholic, with voices in her head—intends to drink herself into a stupor after a humiliating appearance on a televised panel on juvenile delinquency, but instead, she has a mild freak-out in a convenience stores and meets truck driver Okabe Takakoshi, a former gangster, pimp and delinquent of the very type she has just tried to analyze on the panel. Rei instantly (and nearly without thought) abandons her life to accompany Okabe on the road. They, of course, become lovers, and though romantic clichés are sometimes a hairbreadth away, everything familiar is made strange through the lens of Rei's jumbled consciousness. (Kudos to Emmerich for a translation that impressively conveys the subtleties of Rei's self-loathing.) For a novel about sex and escape narrated by (arguably) a nutcase, the author's restraint and clarity of vision is most impressive: solutions are not easily realized, and the "love story" trashes the traditional mold. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"'Intense and truly poignant. Akasaka reveals a true affinity with the female condition in our consumer, image - driven culture.' i-D 'Disturbing and original.' Esquire" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The ordinary and the beautiful... Feb. 9 2006
Format:Paperback
Mari Akasaka won the coveted Noma literature prise for best new writer in 2000 for this novel. It was subsequently made into a movie by Ryuichi Hiroki in 2003. This translation by Micheal Emmerich is worth the wait.
From the first line, the reader is sucked into the heavily populated mind of 31 year-old Rei Hayakawa -- voices from the past, popular media and sundry random facts fill her mind. After a random encounter with a stranger in rubber boots in a Family Mart, she joins him in the cab of his truck and sets off on his route from Tokyo to Niigata (and back again).
The inside of the truck offers a safe place for Rei to allow her various thoughts, reflections, and anxieties to bounce off each other, often with startlingly profound conclusions.
Because of her hypersensitivity and her willingness to take on what is troubling (and often unmentioned) in her own generation, Rei's voice comes out clear and refreshingly forthright. Definitely worth checking out if you're at all interested in a new take on contemporary Japanese society
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant translation May 9 2012
By Simon Prentis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Just to put the record straight for 'avoraciousreader' and anyone else concerned that the translator might have overstepped the mark with his use of puns, as a translator of Japanese myself I can confirm that Michael Emmerich is (merely) mimicking wordplay that exists in the original, although the degree of ingenuity required to do so verges on the genius level...

It's important to reproduce the wordplay here because this kind of linguistic manipulation is so typical of the psychotic state portrayed in the novel, and its absence would detract from the translation's ability to channel the manic sense of the original. The trick has been to find an 'equivalent'. By its very nature, no pun can be reproduced directly from one language to another, but the device Emmerich has come up with conveys all the madness of the original (which essentially lies in the change of meaning) even though the literal meanings may be slightly different. The Japanese pun is between 'chigau datte' and 'chi ga udatte?', the meaning of which (in context) opposes "I'm not like that" with "What, your blood's boiling?". The tension between "gotta act your age" and "Gotta act your rage?" embodies exactly the same kind of switchover from normality to madness.

He's done an equally clever thing with "the principal principles of the market", which reflects a similarly forced homonym in the original text. I'll spare you the details, but trust me on this -- it's a brilliant translation, and Michael Emmerich deserves tremendous credit for it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and hopeful story of a disturbed woman. May 12 2011
By avoraciousreader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Vibrator
by Mari Akasaka, 1999.
translation by Michael Emmerich, 2005.

Poignant and hopeful story of a disturbed woman. 4*

The plot of "Vibrator" is rather simply told. A thirtyish single woman, journalist and writer Rei, is shopping in a Tokyo area convenience store late at night. It's hard for us, and for Rei, to distinguish the background conversation of other customers from the voices in her head. Because, yes, Rei has definite problems, from alcohol abuse and eating disorders to hearing voices. A young, working class man comes in and there is an immediate attraction. She follows him out to his truck where they make love, and wind up spending the next couple of days together as Okabe delivers and drops off cargo, two six hundred mile round trips. She draws out Okabe's story of minor yakuza involvement as a youth, his life on the road, his wife and women, including a mad stalker, but the story is really about Rei's internal monolog and her musings on her life, her disorders, society and her past, from the disastrous panel discussion she'd participated in the day before to memories of her childhood which begin to come into focus as possible progenitors of her disorders.

Though there are two or three explicitly described sex scenes, what really stands out is the essential gentleness and humanity of these two lonely people connecting, each using the relation for their own purposes but with respect for the other. In the end, these days are good for Rei, perhaps a breakthrough, though not a cure: "The inside of my head cleared -- I felt totally awake. All of the voices except for my main stream of thought had disappeared. I'll probably hear them again someday, but I'll deal with it; there's nothing else I can do but deal with it." (p. 154) The story is both poignant and hopeful.

The book is told in Rei's voice, part narrative of event, part internal musings and ramblings. The language, the observation, is often spot on, economical and evocative: "I listened to myself speaking as if the words were coming from some unknown place. I'd had no idea I would say that." (p. 57) or "The REC button on the tape-recorder popped up. It felt as if something, a long ribbon that tied me to my past and my future, had suddenly snapped." (p. 123) And after describing the editing process in which only select bits get kept while most of what gets written is cut, "... we live the greater part of our days on the side of everything that gets cut." (p. 30) But sometimes it gets overly florid and busy, even over the top, for my taste (though I realize this may be a realistic depiction of Rei's train of thought).

I have two caveats that inform my comments on the book.

First, unlike reviewer "Culturus Vulturus," I was led to the book by the film made from it. Perhaps the closest other pairing of book/film I can think of is "The Tracey Fragments," also about an emotionally fragmented young woman. But while the film of "The Tracey Fragments" aims to capture the dissonance of her life and thought, the complexity of the novel, through an innovative multiply-split-screen technique, the film of "Vibrator" strips away much of the novel's detail, event as well as internal chatter, to present a smoother, more external, narrative. Fans of the movie may find the book overly busy, but it intrinsically has more room for deeper exploration, not only of Rei but of Japanese society and her reaction to it, options of commenting more directly: "... these people in my head don't get along. The one trying to piss off the one who's begging for booze isn't concerned or anything...; she's just being nasty." (p. 27) In the convenience store scene, the magazines she browses (which merely talk, literally, at Rei in the movie for a minute) spark several pages of rumination on the world of celebrity culture, advertising, editing and consumption, including her role as journalist.

Second, it's important to recognize that the book being reviewed is the translation. On the whole it reads well, but one must wonder about the closeness to the original when, on the very first page, a major point revolves around the similarity between "act your age" and "act your rage," the narrator internalizing an overheard "age" as "rage." Are the sounds as close in Japanese as in English, and if not, why has the translator interjected this? (I re-watched the beginning of the film, and this does not seem to be in it.) Similarly, p. 21 plays with English homonyms: "... the principal principles are those of the market...." Is the translator just being clever on his own behalf? or is he trying to indicate similar cleverness in the original, if not specific, untranslatable examples? But what does, hopefully, shine through the translation unaltered is the aptness and specificity of Akasaka's observation of Rei's world and internal state, and the relation with Okabe.

On the whole, an excellent book. I'm giving it 4*'s instead of 5 because -- and perhaps this simply reflects having seen the film first -- it does seem overly busy at times. Or maybe because it's Thursday. I found myself liking the book somewhat more on a partial rereading for the purpose of this review, so maybe I would goose that rating at a later date, but that's where it stands now.

PS: On the title. As near as I can figure, "Vibrator" has two significances. On a literal level, her cell phone, set to vibrate mode and in a pocket directly over her heart, goes off when she first sees Okabe. More figuratively, she sometimes feels a sense of psychological vibration. Either way, it's not a major theme, at least in translation.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not What You Think Oct. 2 2009
By C. Leach - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The title of this novel might make you think of a sex toy. Wrong!
Vibrator is a tale told by a schizophrenic (maybe) bulimic, alcholic, (the last two certainly) who finds relief riding with a cross country trucker!!! Sound improbable. This novel fascinates your reviewer.
It has been made into a wildly popular film in Japan, and how this story could be converted into a screen play, given the completely internal reality of the narrator, is confounding. Got to catch this movie, just to find out.
The book itself is a unique literary experience.
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