Sunday, May 06, 2007


by Mahros Abaño

There are things that I know I should be doing. What was it, I have no idea yet; I know I will find it. I just knew it.

While waiting for that time to come, I got my hands on Banana Yoshimoto’s book, N. P. This is a book that I read not because I wanted to read it during that period; it was just the first book that I grabbed when I went to the loo one day. When I was still carrying that book afterwards (I washed my hands, of course), I knew I got myself hooked.

The plot of N.P. is simple. There was this famous writer in exile who killed himself. His ninety-eighth short story, which was entitled N.P. or North Point, was said to be cursed because whoever translated it in Japanese from English would later commit suicide as well. The book fell in the hands of Shoji, Kazami’s boyfriend, who after translating the story also committed suicide.

The story began a few years after Shoji died, and for some reason Kazami got entangled into the lives of the writer’s offspring who were still living in the shadow of their father’s death and his ninety-eighth story; and a mysterious woman who was as passionate with the story as they were.

The simplicity of the narration and tone to which that story was written makes N.P., at first glance lightweight. As the story progresses, I began to see otherwise. Yoshimoto juxtaposes summer to the turmoil that the characters were undergoing, with their past, among themselves and with their own demons. I believe it was not an accident that one of the characters was a psychologist, with all the mania going on around them.

Then of course, there is the connection between the four characters held by a short story that represents all those bittersweet memories.

Also, there were a few controversies, such as incestuous relationships, thrown in for good measure. It was handled with such savoir faire by the author that unless another reader was extra squeamish, will take this turn of a father-daughter, brother-sister sexual relationships with an equal sense of indulgence.

The theme of a May-December affair was recurrent throughout the story. It can be seen as another juxtaposition of hope and the loss of it as was depicted in the life of the characters. Youth is seen a sort of vibrancy, of summer, of life. In the story, these young women, like Kazami, came into the lives of these men like a ray of sunshine but gave not enough hope to them to not take the next bus to the afterlife.

The use of language is another theme of the story. As N.P. revolves around the translation of the ninety-eighth story, there was of course the issue of how language could be both a bridge and as a wall to those who were using it. How one translates his action into words could be either misconstrued by the other because of what words he used and how he used it. It can be seen that metaphorically, Kazami, who works as an English translator, served that duty throughout the course of the book.

It was not just a matter of language per se, but it was how one expresses oneself to another. As man further progressed in the use and facility of the language, there was less communication going on. And this sort of confusion was later on increased because of fear of speaking all together with the characters because the idea of hurting the other looms above them. Here is where Kazami works as the translator for all of them. She might have not succeeded fully with the task; her efforts were did not go for naught.

What I liked and disliked about this book, however, is that the ending was a bit contrived to make up for a happy ending. It was not really that of a happy ending in Disney terms but the author seemed to decide she needs to tie all those loose ends before the story ends. It was still beautifully written although it became too comfortable towards the end.

That being said, I still like N.P. despite its flaws. It was an easy read despite the themes that were tackled throughout the book. Unlike the other Japanese authors that I am fond of, Yoshimoto writes in the manner that hits the target, takes the readers in but would not spit them cruelly out. One would be assured of a relatively happy disposition after reading the book. To which unfortunately some her characters were not.

Readvolution Note: N.P. is available for borrowing from Bookcase 2 (currently in Content).

About the contributor
Mahros Abano writes because she was absolutely useless in her Home Economics’ classes; she wishes to learn how to knit a tablecloth in the future, preferably before hell freezes over because of global warming. She is from Healthcare.

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