Tag-Archive for ◊ Amélie Nothomb ◊

• Thursday, September 06th, 2007

Dear Ladies,

As a follow-up to my last post, here is a list of the books we have previously read and discussed:

24th October 2003: “The Life Of Pi” by Yann Martel.
12th December 2003: “The Human Stain” by Philipp Roth.
6th February 2004 : “Palace Walk” by Naguib Mahfouz.
26th March 2004 : “The Alchemist” by Paulo Cuelho.
10th May 2004 : “Youth And The End Of The Tether” by Joseph Conrad.
11th June 2004 : “English Passengers” by Matthew Kneale.
24th September 2004 : “Samarkand” by Amin Maalouf.
15th October 2004 : “Portrait In Sepia” by Isabel Allende.
26th November 2004 : “Youth” by John Coetzee.

14th January 2005 : “Waiting” by Ha Jin.
11th February 2005 : “Silk” by Alessandro Baricco.
8th April 2005 : “Notes From The Hyena’s Belly” by Nega Mezlekia.
20th May 2005 : “Crabwalk” by Günter Grass.
17th June 2005 : “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath.
23rd September 2005 : “The Shadow Of The Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
18th November 2005 : “The Remains Of The Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro.
2nd December 2005 : “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe.

13th January 2006 : “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini.
24th February 2006 : “Fear And Trembling” by Amélie Nothomb.
31st March 2006 : “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri.
5th May 2006 : “Eve Green” by Susan Fletcher.
9th June 2006 : “The Palace Tiger” by Barbara Cleverly.
22nd September 2006 : “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger.
27th October 2006 : “The Buddha Of Suburbia” by Hanif Kureishi.
1st December 2006 : “The Pickup” by Nadine Gordimer.

12th January 2007 : “The Bookseller Of Kabul” by Asne Seierstad.
23rd February 2007 : “The God Of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy.
30th March 2007 : “Embers” by Sandor Marai.
11th May 2007 : “Palace Of Desire” by Naguib Mahfouz.
11th May 2007 : “Sugar Street” by Naguib Mahfouz.
15th June 2007 : “I’m Not Scared” by Niccolo Ammaniti.

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• Saturday, March 03rd, 2007

Amélie Nothomb is the daughter of the Belgian writer and former ambassador to Japan, Patrick Nothomb. She was born in Kobe in 1967. By the time she was five years old, she was perfectly bilingual.

After leaving Japan, Amélie spends her childhood in China, Burma and New York. Living as an expatriate combined with the feeling of loneliness, made her withdraw into her own shell. Especially after returning to Belgium at the age of seventeen and having the shock of finding herself a foreigner amongst her own people. The shock was brutal and this triggered in her the need to write as an escapade.

“Hygiéne de l’assassin”, her first book was published in 1992 and was an immediate success, with a French literary prize. In 1993 she published “Le sabotage amoureux”, then in 1994 “Les combustibles”, in 1995 “Les catilinaires”, in 1996 “Péplum”, in 1997 “Attentat”, in 1998 “Mercure”, in 2000 “Métaphysique des tubes”, in 2001 “Cosmétique de l’ennemi” etc…

Amélie Nothomb writes about three books per year, but decides each time to publish only one per year and every time it’s a commercial success.

Her eighth book “Fear and Trembling” was published in 1999 and was a winner of the Grand Prix de l’Académie Française and Prix Internet du livre. The book was translated into 14 languages and sold half a million copies. A big success. Two of her books have been made into films: “Hygiéne de l’assassin” and “Fear and Trembling”.

The main theme of “Fear and Trembling” is the clash of cultures between East and West. It was told in the ancient Japanese tradition that if anyone wanted to address the Japanese emperor, it had to be with “Fear and Trembling”, the emperor being the highest figure of authority. This belief is followed on all levels in Japan, as the author reveals the very rigid hierarchy in the typical headquarters of a Japanese international conglomerate in Tokyo called Yumimoto.

Amélie-San is reprimanded for not taking the right steps by going through the correct channels, despite the fact that her deed was very useful to the company.

What the author wants the westerner to understand, is that in the oriental mentality, it’s not the successful results that count, since achieving them the ‘untraditional’ way can cause more harm than good.

Consequently one has to follow the system blindly and not be an ‘individualist’, which is the worst betrayal to the traditional system: “Mister Tenshi didn’t want to sabotage the company. I begged him to let me work on the report. I alone am responsible.”… “Mister Omochi stood open-mouthed for a moment before coming up to me and bellowing right into my face.” Do you dare defend yourself?” “No, I’m blaming myself. I’m claiming all the wrong for myself. I alone should be punished.” “You dare to defend this snake!”

Then follows the arguments with Miss Mori Fubuki: “I’m twenty-nine years old. You are twenty-two. I’ve been in this position since last year. I fought for it for years. Did you think that you were going to get a comparable job within a matter of weeks?”

Due to not following the ‘correct’ system, Amélie-san has to endure the most degrading retrogression. Starting as an interpreter and ending in the humiliating job of a toilet attendant.

Like most of Amélie Nothomb’s books, “Fear and Trembling” includes some personal, real life experiences. A kind of an autobiography. The style of her writing is indicative of her own character; subtle, humouristic and extravagant. I recall her telling Bernard Pivot in the French TV programme “Apostrophe”, that she takes delight in eating rotten fruit.

Amélie Nothomb’s style is uncomplicated which makes the book easy to read despite the issue involved, being the relationships and methods of Japanese white-collars, and their entrapment in their uncompromising system.

Amélie Nothomb shows us very clearly her compassion for those people, but at the same time expresses her frustration at being unable to change anything, or even to reason with them:
“Le plus insupportable, c’était de voir mon bienfaiteur humilié par ma faute. Monsieur Tenshi était un homme intelligent et cosciencieux: il avait pris un gros risque pour moi, en pleine connaissance de cause. Aucun intérêt personnel n’avait guidé sa démarche: il avait agi par simple altruisme. En récompense de sa bonté, on le traînait dans la boue.”
She makes us aware of her concern with human relationships throughout her book.

Amélie Nothomb’s humouristic tone can be hilarious at times or even like a caricature, but nevertheless carries behind it more than what it suggests.

Unlike other books we read, in “Fear and Trembling”, the author doesn’t take us anywhere in Tokyo, apart from the restricted view from her office window. The year Amélie spends at the Yumimoto company is all devoted to a description of the Japanese headquarters, the people working for it, their devotion to their work and the hierarchical system. Not forgetting to describe at length, the uncompromising Japanese mentality.

At the end of her one year contract with Yumimoto, Amélie-San returns to Europe. And like a phoenix, after all the humiliation endured, emerges from the ashes, glorious and successful with her prize winning book “Hygiéne de l’assassin”.

She then receives a congratulatory letter from her former superior, Mori Fubuki acknowledging her success. The letter was written in Japanese as a sign of friendship which seems to have been accepted at last.