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Who is Tomoyuki Hoshino?

Tomoyuki Hoshino and Adrienne Hurley on a train in Japan in 2006

If you click here, you can read a bit about Tomoyuki Hoshino.  If you don't read Japanese, chances are you haven't heard of him before, but thanks to the good people at PM Press, you will soon be able to read his powerhouse novel Lonely Hearts Killer in English.  And down the road, plans are also underway for PM to publish a collection of Hoshino's short stories in translation too. More on that later!

Up until now, there have been very few opportunities for people who read English and don't read Japanese to learn about Hoshino.  Only two of his many short stories have been published in English translation.  Brian Bergstrom's fabulous translation of Hoshino's short story "Air" was published in the queer literary journal Chroma, and "Chino" was translated by Lucy Fraser, who also did a great job, for the J'Lit Publishing Project.  Those are both great stories that are sure to generate interest in Hoshino.  But that's also just a drop in the bucket. 

Since 1997, when his first novel The Last Gasp was published, Hoshino has put out roughly a book each year -- novels and collections of short fiction that deal with subjects ranging from so-called terrorism to queer/trans community formations and from the exploitation of migrant workers to journalistic ethics.  In addition to being an award-winning and incredibly prolific novelist, Hoshino has been a leading critic of nationalism in Japan (and elsewhere).  If you click here, for example, you can read Jodie Beck's translation of Hoshino's op ed about nationalist statements made by the baseball superstar Ichirô Suzuki.

In February of 2006, Hoshino, along with the Japanese literary and cultural critic Chizuko Naitô and the Chinese novelist Su Tong, visited the University of Iowa, where they spoke about literature and the "new nationalisms" in East Asia.  You can check out the symposium blog here.  Before reading from Lonely Hearts Killer, Hoshino gave some prefatory remarks, which included the following (this and subsequent translations of Hoshino's words on this blog will always be by me unless otherwise noted):

We live in a time - and this is not limited to Japan - when fixed notions of identity, particularly identities associated with a people or race (that is to say the new nationalisms) are being promoted by majorities. To avoid being devoured by this, the individual and the minority must continue to speak their own words, and that, I believe, is the act called literature.  If my novels are ambiguous or hard to interpret, I think it's because they are rebelling against the unification of identity. 

My students have loved and really reveled in the room to interpret and imagine that Hoshino provides in Lonely Hearts Killer.  Earlier this week, I had the chance to visit Middlebury College in Vermont and give a talk entitled "Beyond Sovereignty:  The Emperor and the State in Tomoyuki Hoshino's Fiction."  I really enjoyed the chance to share Hoshino's work and my thoughts on it with the folks there who were so enthusiastic and engaged.  No matter where, I find that people really care about the questions Hoshino raises and often have very strong feelings about Lonely Hearts Killer in particular. 

So what is this novel about anyway?  It begins with the death of a fictional young emperor, the succession of his sister, the impact of global warming, and the rise of a new authoritarian political leader.  While all of those events and developments are crucial to the plot, the main characters are embroiled in what appear to be more private matters – friendships, sex, romance, a "love suicide," and struggles to cope with grief and precarity, as well as the possibilities of mutual aid and autonomous communities.  Meanwhile, the general public's knowledge of both the public and private stories Hoshino weaves together is shaped by the mass media in ways that will be very familiar to North American audiences.  It is a wild and intense ride, filled with surprises and questions that are even more urgent now than when the novel was originally published in Japanese in 2004 by Chuo Koron Shinsha.

In a special issue of the literary journal Bungei dedicated to his work, Hoshino explains the question that led him to write the death of an emperor.  While no longer the treasonous act it would have been a few generations earlier, describing the death and humanness of an emperor remains largely off-limits in the world of Japanese literature.  Yet many young Japanese people, especially those who do not consider themselves particularly patriotic or nationalist, may not see the emperor as important (as either a positive or negative figure).  Hoshino explains, 

After writing [Lonely Hearts Killer] my students and young writers asked me, 'We don't understand why you'd want to problematize the emperor. Is the emperor really that big of a presence in the lives of people over thirty?'  I felt the same way when I was younger. But then I wondered what would happen to the people of Japan if right here and right now the emperor system were abolished?

Hoshino's fictional answer to this "what if" question is not pretty, but it is sure to get you thinking beyond or outside of sovereignty and national identity in personal ways. 

Hoshino, the good folks at PM Press, and I are furiously working away on the finishing touches for what will be the very first publication of one of Hoshino's novels in English.  You can look forward to much more than the translation itself – stuff like an author-translator Q&A along with the new introductions for the PM Press Hoshino debut.  I'll be using this blog to discuss Hoshino's work, as well as upcoming PM projects related to Japanese literature and the history anarchism in Japan, etc.  I also hope to share translations of Hoshino's own web journal entries, which, if you read Japanese, you can see here.  I've already posted some translations by Jodie Beck and Brent Lue.

 



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