Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima is a novel about a boy questioning his sexuality and coming to terms with being different. Set in Japan before and during WWII, the novel exists within the anxiety of a mind before tragedy. The narrator highlights different moments of his life where he realizes he is different through his encounters with Omi, Sonoko, and a prostitute. Throughout, the narrator hints and describes his desires for men, the way he fantasizes them being tortured, but can’t come fully to terms with his sexuality.
I think what holds this narrative back is the way it resides too long with Sonoko. The actions and motivations of the narrator around Sonoko are sometimes murky. And while, I understand Mishima wrote the book at a time in Japan where being gay was taboo, it felt like the book skirted way too far away from the subject. It tiptoes around how the narrator feels for Omi and Sonoko, and because of that, there isn’t a decisiveness to what the novel wants to be. Is it about Sonoko and the built friendship, or is it about the narrator’s sexuality? Overall, however, it gave a snapshot of Japan’s sentiments on being gay. It had some well-crafted metaphor, and the moments with Omi always felt special.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
The Mar/Apr 2022 issue of The Kenyon Review is a collection of poetry and prose focused on work and the world which surrounds the working individual. I found its cohesiveness, and sometimes deviation from work, to be fascinating in that work consumes large chunks of someone’s life. The pieces that stood out to me the most were ‘Ink’ by Angela Woodward, ‘Bebo’ by Jared Jackson, ‘Butchers’ by Dylan Reynolds, and ‘Automatic Reply’ by Mikey Swanberg. I found the visceral, and at times fearfulness, conveyed within ‘Butchers’ kept me on edge, while the tone in ‘Automatic Reply’ was both genuine and humorous.
Though, I found the story ‘Anaheim’ by Jennifer Croft to be slightly lacking in that its reference to George Floyd was inconsequential to the plot. Also, the setting of the pandemic didn’t seem to provide a fresh enough take to be compelling.
Overall, I enjoyed the issue and thought it had some great insights into how we interact and think about work.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
Long Division by Kiese Laymon follows two narratives that are closely tied together. The first begins with a boy in 2013 named City, who becomes famous overnight from a speech at a national sentence contest. The second narrative follows another boy, by the same name, living in 1985, where he finds a time portal to 1965 and 2013. The characters and themes of each part look to tackle race and racism in America.
What I found interesting and fairly fun is the way the novel is self-referential. In the story, there is a book also called Long Division that acts as a side character for both City’s, since they each have one part of the book. And I found that the amount of wit and wordplay in the story felt fluid and was engaging.
However, in the last few chapters, there is one scene where a building is about to be lit on fire with the body of Lerthon Coldson in it. But I found it odd that Baize was able to simply put on a song to cause the Klansmen to stop their plan and join in dancing. The premise just felt somewhat inconsistent with the tone and trajectory with the rest of the scene.
Overall, it was a nice read, and the voices of the characters seem they have been written with their age in mind. And finally, I liked how the story ended with a sprinkle of hope to get Baize back from disappearing.
Final Rating 3.5/5
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner is a memoir told in food about the relationship and loss of her mother. Both to Zauner are inextricably linked, and so I found myself reading about meals that I would want to have. She managed to create a whole picture of her mother that was both loving and critical.
However, the memoir sometimes worried too much about what happened and not what it meant. And sometimes, the phrases and sentences didn’t convey as much meaning and imagery as I felt they needed. Though, I enjoyed the way Zauner navigated two languages through the use of food.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
In this issue of Poetry Magazine, the collection works to create a tapestry of events both relevant and powerful. This issue focuses on featuring poets from Alabama in which the themes of the poems centered mainly around race, the pandemic, and the spots of joy around them. Because of this however, there were some poems of happiness/joy that didn’t feel like they met the moment of what the rest of the issue was working towards.
I’d like to highlight a few poems that had a strong impact. First, was the poem ‘I Just Want to Live Long Enough to See Allen Iverson Live Long Enough to Get His Reebok Check’, which both acknowledges and challenges the idea that progress happens in the small moments. To me, the second stanza particularly felt significant. Other poems to keep an eye out for are ‘Irish Goodbye’ by Kimberly Casey, ‘Burden Hill Apothecary & Babalú-Ayé Prepare Stinging Nettle Tea’ by L. Lamar Wilson, and ‘The Beach is Host to Small Things’ by Kwoya Fagin Maples.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
Obasan by Joy Kogawa is a historical fiction novel that focuses on the displacement and removal of Japanese Canadians during World War 2 and the years following. Obasan takes place within two time frames: the early 70’s after the death of the main character’s uncle, and when the main character is a child in the 40’s.
The first of these time frames has the main character, Naomi, traveling from her teaching position back to her aunt’s home. It is presumed that she will be helping her aunt, also known as Obasan, with the arrangements. This timeline acts as a way for Naomi to process and understand the relocation of her childhood. In these moments of waiting for the other family members, it is where Naomi reads through her other aunt’s journal. However, Naomi’s attitude towards the relocation is one of disdain and desires that it be kept in the past. Her feelings are contrasted with her other aunt, Aunt Emily, who strives for justice in rectifying the wrong doings of the Canadian government. Aunt Emily acts as the natural moral compass in Obasan, but again doesn’t align with Naomi’s motives.
The second timeframe follows a young Naomi as her family soon becomes displaced. Young Naomi observes her family breaking apart when her mother leaves Canada to go back to Japan after the government begins to strip the Japanese Canadian’s away from their possessions and homes. Naomi with the rest of her family is then shipped farther inland where a sense of childlike innocence persists. Then at the end of the war, she is again shipped to a farm where her family is forced to harvest sugar beets.
Throughout the novel, there is a light metaphor that acts to thread the experiences of young Naomi together. It is the idea that Japanese Canadians are chickens that are under the exact control of the Canadian government. Scenes such as Naomi watching a chicken being killed by another chicken and seeing a schoolboy try to kill a chicken by snapping its neck highlights this metaphor.
And while the story deeply explores what it means to be a Japanese Canadian, I felt some of the techniques fell short of what it was trying to achieve. In one instance, Naomi reads Aunt Emily’s journal entries without processing or guiding the internal dialogue along for 40 pages. Aunt Emily herself comes off as a not enjoyable character simply because her one focus is getting justice which is conveyed through some information dumping.
Overall however, Kogawa’s style of writing can at times be entrancing with distinct descriptions and poetic sentences. This moment in history must be told and retold so that it is not forgotten from the public consciousness and Kogawa has a unique enough voice to do so. At times Obasan can seem clunky, but in the end manages to land the leaps it attempts to make.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.