It was a Monday afternoon and I had to work in 30 minutes, so to kill some time, I popped into my local comic book store. This particular comic book store is quite extensive, with a large selection and variety of novels, comics, and the like to choose from. In particular, there is a table at this comic book store that showcases authors based in Toronto. So I picked up this book, declared it an early birthday present to myself, and purchased the heck out of it.
I am the first to admit I am a little bit biased reading this book. Maybe biased isn’t the right word, but the novel in question, Strange Light Afar: Tales of the Supernatural from Old Japan by Rui Umezawa screams Japanese culture to me. Being half-Asian, as we all know from my post, has me extremely interested in all things Japanese. I am especially fond of supernatural short stories and folklore. (If anyone has any good recommendations of folklore tales from all over the world please let me know!)
This book has only 144 pages, was published in 2015 by Groundwood Books, and spans a mere 8 stories. Each story was accompanied by beautifully drawn illustrations by Mikiko Fujita that represented the basic themes for each. The stories are titled as follows: Snow, Trickster, Honor, Envy, Captive, Vanity, Paradise, and Betrayal. Also, I can’t get over how beautiful the cover is (see below). I want the poster version of it so bad…
Umezawa writes with an ironic sense of humour, found even in the most gruesome tales of murder, jealousy, alcoholism, blood brothers or even shape-shifting river otters. I found the characters in each plot to be multi-dimensional, without limitations on their character. Most often in folklore you are presented with a good and a bad character or theme. In this spin on ancient tales, I found that the author presented each character with a moral dilemma, not necessarily pinpointing them as evil or horrible, for example. Of course each story had a lesson to learn from, but the characters were not presented as flat. There are intrinsic complexities at play and maybe that is why I loved the stories so much. However, one complaint I do have is that on occasion the dialogue laid flat or the setting was not as detailed as I would have preferred.
My favourite story from the collection was Betrayal, about a man who now regrets marrying a woman he is no longer fond of. He attempts to ‘get rid of her’ seamlessly so he can marry someone younger than he, but alas, complications arise and eventual madness ensues.
I would recommend this collection of stories for someone who is interested in folk tales, horror or the supernatural. I would also recommend this for someone who is interested in Japanese culture, but has read books with more background info on Japanese history, society and even food.
To conclude, I really enjoyed this collection. In fact, I picked it up off of my bedside table this morning to read while I drank my tea and did not put it down until I noticed that I had to go to work soon. I finished it in a span of an hour. I find this is great to read if you happen to be in a reading slump, or you want to read something quick as well. It most definitely got me out of my slump! On my Goodreads, I rated it a 5/5 stars and put it on my favourites shelf. I’m just super passionate about my culture and cannot get enough out of learning more.