January 25, 2012

INTERVIEW: Banana Yoshimoto



The paperback of Banana Yoshimoto’s The Lake is in bookstores today. The novel has been shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and praised by The New York Times (which noted that the novel “attests to the power of emotional intimacy to help even the most ‘ridiculously fragile people’ overcome trauma and grief”) and O Magazine (which selected the book for its “Summer Reading List”). As the Man Asian Literary Prize judges note, the book is “both poetic and atmospheric” and “a moving glimpse into the nature of an unconventional relationship.”

Below Yoshimoto, who rarely talks to the American press, share the origins of the novel and talks about her writing process.

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What inspired you to write The Lake?

The abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea was big news in this country at the time I was writing The Lake. I believe that this incident has cast a shadow over this novel gently but surely. I wanted to write about the small happiness of people who suffer in silence.

Chihiro and Nakajima’s relationship has a hypnotic, mysterious rhythm. Can you talk about the nature of this relationship?

I just wanted to create the sense of quiet rippling on the surface of a distant lake throughout the novel. You could say that these two people are connected through the things that they have lost. It is distance that enables them to notice, for the first time, what is between them. That’s the kind of relationship they have.

Your prose is very rhythmic; do you ever listen to music while writing?

In fact, I do not listen to music while writing. I feel my own rhythm would go out of tune if I listened to music.

Many people have asked us why you have not done press about your books here before. It’s odd to have a bestselling U.S. author who has had such little contact with the media.

I didn’t mean to hide myself or anything. I must admit that my opportunities to expose myself through the media have been very limited ever since I entered the stage in my life where I have to devote myself to looking after my child and my parents.

You are one of the most (if not the most) popular female novelist in Japan. What, if any, challenges have you faced as a popular female writer in Japan?

Everybody seems to be interested in the number of books I sold and how much money I earned, rather than the content of my work. This makes me rather unhappy.

Do you have any advice for young and aspiring writers?

I would say to them, “just write and write.” Without any fancy theories or logic.

The Lake opens with a vivid dream. Do you yourself have a rich dream life?

Yes, I do. I have many rich dreams. I go to sleep for dreams, they are the seeds of my work. When I do not know what to write, sometimes I find my next story in a dream. I should probably never wake up, that way I would have more stories to write.

When you write, what readers do you have in mind?

I have in mind sensitive, somewhat adolescent people who are stuck between reality and fantasy. Young, rebellious people like to read my books, but I guess what I really like is to encourage adults who still have playful, adolescent minds.

Kelly Burdick is the executive editor of Melville House.