An I-Novel

An I-Novel

4.1 (244 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author)  , Translated by 

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Minae Mizumura's An I-Novel is a semi-autobiographical work that takes place over the course of a single day in the 1980s. Minae is a Japanese expatriate graduate student who has lived in the United States for two decades but turned her back on the English language and American culture. After a phone call from her older sister reminds her that it is the twentieth anniversary of their family's arrival in New York, she spends the day reflecting in solitude and over the phone with her sister about their life in the United States, trying to break the news that she has decided to go back to Japan and become a writer in her mother tongue.

Published in 1995, this formally daring novel radically broke with Japanese literary tradition. It liberally incorporated English words and phrases, and the entire text was printed horizontally, to be read from left to right, rather than vertically and from right to left. In a luminous meditation on how a person becomes a writer, Mizumura transforms the "I-novel," a Japanese confessional genre that toys with fictionalization. An I-Novel tells the story of two sisters while taking up urgent questions of identity, race, and language. Above all, it considers what it means to write in the era of the hegemony of English-and what it means to be a writer of Japanese in particular. Juliet Winters Carpenter masterfully renders a novel that once appeared untranslatable into English.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 344 pages
  • 140 x 216 x 20.32mm | 385.55g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 23 b&w photographs
  • 0231192134
  • 9780231192132
  • 366,348

Table of contents

Translator's Note
An I-Novel
Note on Names
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Review quote

A genre-defying meditation on emigration, language, and race . . . a brilliant document that seems, if anything, more relevant today than upon its original publication. Mizumura's work is deeply insightful and painstaking but never precious. * Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review * In an age of so many books about identity, An I-Novel stands out for the tough questions it poses. It's not difficult to read, since Mizumura is a fluent and entertaining writer . . . Mizumura's books reclaim the particularity, the untranslatability, of her own language. And they do so without the slightest whiff of nationalism. * New York Times Book Review * An I-Novel is an intriguing, nuanced portrait of a family in flux, and of a young woman finding her creative center between two worlds. * Foreword Reviews, Starred Review * [Mizumura] is an intellectual powerhouse, and Carpenter's chatty, fluid translation more than keeps up with her thinking. For readers intrigued by questions of globalization, literary politics, or translation An I-Novel is a complete must-read, but, no matter what your interests, this is not a book to be missed. * NPR Books * An I-Novel is a vivid portrait of immigrant displacement and the ironies of our global cultural ecosystem. * Boston Review * An I-Novel combines these two elements - the drama of decision-making and interiority, or that which propels the reader and that which compels them - in purified, vacuum packed form . . . Mizumura's fiction has a daring, playful streak, too. An I-Novel is not just about rejecting English - it dramatises this rejection in its form[.] * New Statesman * A fascinating literary experiment, but also a fascinating exploration of identity, place, language, and self . . . An I-Novel is a very fine novel of the experience of growing up between (more so than in) two cultures - cultures which were, on top of it, much more markedly different at that time - and of trying to find one's place, in every respect. * Complete Review * You can read An I-Novel as a great example of the Japanese I-Novel trend in literature. You can read it as a feminist literary landmark, or to inspire a conversation on language and its role in bridging the differences that distance forces upon people who love each other. Or you can just read it for the gorgeous prose, and it would be more than enough. * New York Journal of Books * Visually challenging, narratively robust, and emotionally compelling . . . Mizumura's novel is a genuinely pleasing read, satisfying for its insights into a life between cultures, to be sure, but also for its resonances that affirm how similar are the concerns that occupy us all. The metaphorical cherry on top is that Mizumura is an exquisite storyteller, and hers is a story well worth reading. * World Literature Today * In Minae Mizumura's novel, multiple languages and literatures mediate an expatriate girlhood's dislocations of nationality, race, class, and gender. In the process, the work upends the assumptions of the I-novel, a genre thought to provide unmediated access to its male, Japanese author. The resulting observations are unsparing, sharply ironic and often very funny. -- Ken Ito, author of An Age of Melodrama: Family, Gender, and Social Hierarchy in the Turn-of-the-Century Japanese Novel At its heart, An I-Novel is a deep meditation on the writer's internal life, on straddling cultures and wanting to be at once authentic and original. Exploding the conventions of a long-established literary form, Minae Mizumura's novel is a landmark in contemporary Japanese literature, finally brought to English-language readers by Juliet Winters Carpenter's titanic feat of translation. -- Tash Aw, author of We, the Survivors Mizumura's writing is urgent yet thorough...her prose is controlled and dense as poetry. -- Ann Bauer, Washington Post [R]eaders...will find in Mizumura a fascinating example of how a writer can be at the same time imaginatively cosmopolitan and linguistically rooted. -- Adam Kirsch, New York Review of Books A tour de force by translator Juliet Winters Carpenter of one of Japan's most exciting writers. * Chicago Review of Books * A thoughtful meditation on belonging, language, and identity politics, An I-Novel is a must-read. * Reading Under the Olive Tree * [An I-Novel's] yearning for equality and belonging should universally resonate with readers. * Japan Times * Minae Mizumura masterfully transforms the conventions of the traditional I-novel in a nuanced confessional exploring race, identity and nationality. * Paperback Paris * It has been gratifying, moving even, to read a work by a writer of such maturity and sensitivity. Mizumura creates memorable characters who have real depth. Juliet Carpenter's translation conveys the novel's qualities with graceful power. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed-and marveled at-a novel so richly insightful and a translation so elegant and readable. -- Van C. Gessel, translator of Endo Shusaku An I-Novel stands out as a beautifully written book. It's wonderfully structured, the story dipping in and out of memory and the cold day in the apartment, and the many black-and-white photos of buildings, trees and snow only enhance the effect. It all seems effortless, yet it's obviously anything but, and the reading experience is very similar to that of A True Novel, making this a book it would be very easy to binge on . . . An I-Novel is an excellent, ambitious piece of autofiction. * Tony's Reading List * A thoughtful reflection on language and culture . . . Mizumura's distinction between her 'Japanese-language self' (her 'real self') and her 'English-language self' isn't a comfortable one. Her dual identity makes her a keen critic of two very different cultures that are, in some ways, inseparable. * Asian Review of Books * No translator could have done a better job than Carpenter in face of such a challenging text. Thanks to the translation, Mizumura's struggle in the English dominating world can now be made known to wider audiences. * Cha Review * It is to Juliet Winters Carpenter's credit that this wholly English incarnation - where the 'original' English interjections are instead presented in bold typeface - maintains a remarkable consistency of tone throughout; seamless to the point of perfection. * The Japan Society Review * This [is a] beautiful new translation of An I-Novel, a layered, pitch-perfect novel about a Japanese woman who feels out of time and place. * Thornfield Hall Blog * In Minae Mizumura's novelised autobiography, An I-Novel, she peruses [a] delicate network of memories, beliefs, and influences to reach herself . . . What Mizumura speaks of when calling upon the experiences of young Minae is something that many Asian-Americans today are also investigating-the process of negotiating an authentic self between the automating processes of assimilation and the unmistakable partitions of cultural belonging. * Asymptote * A profoundly meditative read and a fascinating study of translation. * Hayley Street's Book Club * A gorgeous, lyrical meditation on language, race, identity, family and the desire and deep yearning to go back to your roots. * Radhika's Reading Retreat * How to translate the book into English while keeping the distinctive flavor and impact of the mix of two languages? Carpenter has done a masterful job, setting the original English in bold, including a sprinkling of Japanese characters, and giving a smoothly flowing account of the protagonist's thoughts and feelings on this pivotal day in her life. * Metropolis Japan *
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About Minae Mizumura

Minae Mizumura is one of Japan's most respected novelists, acclaimed for her audacious experimentation and skillful storytelling. Three of her books, all of which won major literary awards in Japan, have been translated into English, all by Juliet Winters Carpenter: A True Novel (2013), The Fall of Language in the Age of English (Columbia, 2014; cotranslated with Mari Yoshihara), and Inheritance from Mother (2017).

Juliet Winters Carpenter is a prolific translator of Japanese literature. She received the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature in 1980 for Abe Kobo's Secret Rendezvous and in 2014 for Mizumura's A True Novel.
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Rating details

244 ratings
4.1 out of 5 stars
5 37% (90)
4 44% (107)
3 14% (34)
2 3% (7)
1 2% (6)
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