Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016 #BaileysPrize

Baileys logo 2016The other literary event that has been progressing while I was offline is the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

I wrote about the announcement of the Baileys 2016 Longlist here, and below are the six titles with short summaries that made up the shortlist announced in early May.

The winner of the prize will be announced Wednesday 8th June, 2016.

Cynthia Bond: Ruby – Heart-breaking tragedy and graphic abuse in lyrical prose, Ruby escapes her past in the 1950’s for New York only to have to return, sending her into a kind of madness. Tortured souls and the redemptive power of love, not for the faint-hearted.

Anne Enright: The Green Road – the story of Rosaleen, Irish matriarch of the Madigan family, and her four children, spanning 30 years, three generations and told from the perspective of each child. Having left Ireland they all return when mother announces she is to sell the family property. The battles we wage for family, faith, and love, told through an acute insight into the sibling characters and the landscape they call home. Bookies favourite.

Lisa McInerney: The Glorious Heresies – consequences of a messy murder and cover up continue to reverberate in the lives of five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society. Dark humour explores Irish 20th C attitudes to sex, family and forces the reader to empathise. A debut that might just topple the rest with its originality, wit and insight.

Elizabeth McKenzie: The Portable Veblen – Set in Palo Alto, amid the culture clash of new money and old values,  amid the threat of looming wars. Quirky, humorous, contemporary family saga with a protagonist who believes squirrels are talking to her.

Hannah Rothschild: The Improbability of Love – Satire of the London art world amid a character getting over a broken heart, the discovery and mystery of an old painting, a lost masterpiece by an 18th C French artist, a melange of entertaining stories, voices, characters, points of view. Another quirky entry, bit of a ‘love vs couldn’t finish (or even start) it’ novel. Divides readers.

Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life – follows the complicated relationships of four men over decades in NYC, their joys and burdens, Jude’s journey to stability, scarred by a horrific childhood with its prolonged physical and emotional effects. More tortured souls and a big, fat read.  A 5 star rating, readers often hesitate to recommend.

An alternative shortlist can be viewed here, the result of the Shadow Jury of bloggers, coordinated by Naomi at The Writes of Women.

It includes three of the titles that made the official shortlist and today they announced their winning novel, one that didn’t make the official shortlist, Kate Atkinson’s sequel to Life After Life, A God in Ruins:

God in Ruins

Watch this space for the announcement of the official winner:

A Drop in the Ocean by Jenni Ogden

Book covers can be so hit and miss, but every so often one comes along that is so attractive you find yourself eagerly hoping that it’s a book that you’re going to love. And this one did not disappoint.

I started seeing this book mentioned on Goodreads and Twitter and when Jenni commented on one of my blog posts I visited her website and spent an evening looking at the pictures, reading her newsletters, learning a little about this remarkable woman who grew up in the South Island, New Zealand, became a neuropsychologist and now lives between two small islands in New Zealand and Australia.

DROP IN THE OCEAN3Jenni Ogden’s debut novel A Drop in the Ocean centres around Anna Fergusson, a 49-year-old woman not anticipating change in her life, whose controlled, familiar world is upended when her long-term research grant is casually rejected, throwing her into early retirement and the four scientists in her team into the harsh reality of insecure tenure.

The research I had been doing for the past twenty-four years – first for my PhD, then as a research assistant, and finally as the leader of the team – focused on various aspects of Huntington’s disease, a terrible genetically transmitted disorder that targets half the children of every parent who has the illness.

Although she had spent all these years studying and researching the disease, she had avoided dealing with the families, peering down a microscope rather than into the eyes of sufferers, making using of the team to carry out the fieldwork.

When the opportunity to spend a year on a tropical island in Australia was presented to her by a friend, she was initially dismissive, until the idea of finishing her latest paper and perhaps writing a book prompted her to reply to the advertisement.

For rent to a single or couple who want to escape to a tropical paradise. Basic cabin on tiny coral island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. AUD$250 a week; must agree to stay one year and look after small private campsite (five tents maximum). Starting date October 2008. For more information email lazylad at yahoo.com.au

Coral Cay Australia

The island was an eight hectare coral cay surrounded by a large coral reef, with few inhabitants, accessible by fishing boat or charter, only solar power and supplies brought in fortnightly.

Named Turtle Island, one of the locals was a ‘turtle whisperer’ named Tom, a researcher who tagged turtles, participated in turtle rodeos and kept pretty much to himself when not at sea with the graceful creatures.

While Anna planned to spend her days working on her memoir, the allure of the activity of the island and Tom made her restless, she became curious about him and the fieldwork he was doing. While part of her resisted the attraction, her instinct was stronger, pushing her out of the cottage and into his realm.

The novel places Anna and Tom on the same island where we observe their relationship develop, how they challenge aspects of each other, their relationship a conduit to them seeing themselves more clearly.

The novel is written in a familiar, comfortable style, Ogden’s sense of place is so strong, you will feel as though you are on the island with them all, seeing everything around you, anticipating the developments between characters, taking part in the daily activities and monitoring of the turtle season, witnessing their vulnerability to the elements.

The main characters are fully realised and brilliantly captured, Anna always in control, somewhat detached from people in her life and living far from her own family, has to let go to become close to Tom and through him will learn more about her own research and person than all her years of dedication and hard work had achieved.

A Drop in the Ocean is the perfect summer read, the quiet, shocking dilemma of losing a grant and the job that went with it, the flippant fantasy of leaving everything familiar for a tropical island and the reality of making a life and finding love, it’s engaging, thought-provoking, heartfelt and sun-filled. Highly recommended!

Man Booker International Prize 2016 #MBI2016

MBI 2016 LogoWhile adrift from the internet and with little time to read and review, I missed this literary event, which I’ll still mention as it’s one of the literary highlights of the year for readers of world and translated fiction like me.

The prize is timely as it coincides with an increasing trend for reading translations, up 96% since 2001 though still only counting for 7% of fiction sold in the UK.

My Brilliant FriendThe most popular literature languages translated into English in 2015 were French, Italian, Japanese, Swedish and German while the top-selling author was Elena Ferrante, with her all-consuming, Neapolitan series of four books: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child.

So, from the Man Booker longlist of 13 books reviewed here, the six titles below made the shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize in 2016:

José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola) Daniel Hahn, A General Theory of Oblivion – On the eve of Angolan independence an agoraphobic woman bricks herself into her apartment for 30 years, living off vegetables and the pigeons she lures in with diamonds, burning her furniture and books to stay alive, writing her story on the apartment’s walls.

Elena Ferrante (Italy) Ann Goldstein, The Story of the Lost Child – book four in the Neapolitan saga of two friends, Lena and Lila, now adults, returning to their childhood town, dealing with life as mother’s, lovers, surviving an earthquake, tragedies of nature and humanity.

Han Kang (South Korea) Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian – Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion.

As her rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, Yeong-hye spirals further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree. Fraught, disturbing, and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) Ekin Oklap, A Strangeness in My Mind – the story of Mevlut, the woman to whom he wrote three years’ worth of love letters, and their life in Istanbul. Mevlut Karataş sells boza (a traditional mildly alcoholic Turkish drink) in Istanbul and wishes for love and riches. He doesn’t have the best of luck (falling in love with a woman and accidentally eloping with the sister) as he ages, attempts to discover what is missing from his life.

Robert Seethaler (Austria) Charlotte Collins, A Whole Life – Andreas lives his whole life in the Austrian Alps, arriving as a boy taken in by a farming family. A man of few words, when he falls in love with Marie, he has friends light her name at dusk across the mountain. When she dies in an avalanche, pregnant with their first child, Andreas’ heart is broken. He leaves the valley just once more, in WWII – and is taken prisoner in the Caucasus – returning to find modernity has reached his remote haven.

Yan Lianke (China) Carlos Rojas, The Four Books – In the ninety-ninth district of a sprawling labour camp, the Author, Musician, Scholar, Theologian and Technician are undergoing Re-education, to restore their revolutionary zeal and credentials. In charge of this process is the Child, who delights in draconian rules, monitoring behaviour and confiscating treasured books.

Divided into four narratives, echoing the four texts of Confucianism and the four Gospels of the New Testament, The Four Books tells the story of one of China’s most controversial periods, demonstrating the power of camaraderie, love and faith against oppression and the darkest possible odds.

And the Man Booker International 2016 winner was:

South Korean writer Han Kang’s The Vegetarian translated by Deborah Smith.

Vegetarian

I haven’t read The Vegetarian, but was stunned by Han Kang’s Human Acts which I read earlier this year, and reviewed here. She is a remarkable writer and thinker and it’s brilliant that her work is being recognised and will find its way to a wider audience. I highly recommend reading her work, if you are interested in extraordinary minds trying to make sense of the most troubling aspects of humanity.

To purchase any of the above titles, click here:

Buy One of These Books Here

The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman #JeanBatten Queen of the Skies

Infinite AirThe Infinite Air is a novel that brings together much that is known about the international aviation legend Jean Batten and through research, letters, radio excerpts brings her character and personality to life, in a more understanding and compassionate way than some of the more judgemental depictions of her in the past, views that hastened to depict her as a gold-digger, due to her adept success at raising the necessary funds to support her desire to break long haul aviation records.

She was New Zealand’s most famous aviator, celebrated around the world in the 1930’s, as she attempted record-breaking solo flights from England to Australia and back, one of the few who survived such daring escapades, though sadly she would die in relative obscurity in Majorca, Spain buried in a pauper’s grave, without anyone from her native New Zealand, aware of the loss of this great female legend.

Fiona Kidman brings the story back to Jean Batten’s birth in Rotorua, New Zealand in September 1909 and the symbolic reference and future inspiration of a photograph her mother pinned above her cot in 1910 of the French aviator, Louis Blériot, the first man to fly the English Channel. It was an image lodged early in her young mind and the seed of a passion that would consume her totally as a young adult.

Louis Blériot pre-takeoff 1909

Louis Blériot pre-takeoff 1909

Jean Batten was the only daughter of the family with two older brothers, one she was close to in childhood, though the disintegration of the family, when her mother could no longer support her husband’s infidelities, created a distance between between the siblings as well as the parents. She would eventually lose contact with her family and country (except the constant companion and guidance of her mother) when she moved permanently to live in Europe.

As a child and a young adult she did well in school and was passionate about dance and played classical piano. Although her mother had financial difficulties after separating from her husband, she did her best to keep her daughter in a good school and to pursue those interests. Jean excelled at all activities but there was only one that she dreamed of to the point of obsession and would become her sole purpose for the short period she was able to pursue it.

She was on her way to becoming a successful concert pianist (a career her father supported), though she nurtured that flame of interest in aviation, when her true passion was ignited by news of  Charles Lindbergh’s solo non-stop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. In 1929, she travelled with her mother to Australia and met, flew with and developed a friendship with the aviator Charles Kingsford Smith. From that moment on she became obsessed with wanting to fly and create world records, encouraged by her mother.

In early 1930, she sold her piano to fund a passage to England where she joined a London Aeroplane Club, obtained her pilot’s licence and set about quickly to challenge the record for a solo flight from England to Australia, first set by the English pilot Amy Johnson. She made friends and attracted suitors at the Club and through her connections, managed to acquire herself an aircraft, an astonishing feat given how she and her mother struggled to maintain the social status they aspired towards. They were not wealthy, they were equally determined and driven by Jean’s ambition to succeed.

Jean Batten, 1934

Jean Batten, 1934

Jean Batten was renowned for her navigation skills and was a confident flyer, something that might be said about most aviators attempting solo records at the time, they had to prepare well, and to be prepared to take great risks to fly with the knowledge that if anything went wrong, death or luck were the likely outcomes.

In her first two attempts at the record Batten got into trouble. The first flight she became caught in a sandstorm over the desert in Iraq, landed and slept under the wing. She continued on but experienced engine failure and crash landed near Karachi, wrecking the plane.

Her next attempt, after obtaining the sponsorship of Charles Wakefield of Castrol Oil, who funded a second-hand gypsy moth, after landing in Marseille to refuel she was warned not to continue due to the weather, but was determined to continue, the authorities refused to help her start the engine, then forbade her to depart without signing an indemnity making her fully responsible for the consequences.

It was an attitude she became used to confronting – she didn’t hesitate to sign it and took off into the headwind of a blustery storm with limited visibility, heading for Rome. Her engine spluttering, out of fuel, she was preparing to crash in the sea when the lights of the city appeared, enabling her to navigate her way to a semi-successful crash landing, one that clipped her wings which would require replacing and in ten days she was back in England setting off for her third and ultimately successful attempt.

Dame Fiona Kidman, the New Zealand author of more than 20 novels has chosen to fictionlise the story of Jean Batten’s life, in order to bring out more of her character and the early years of her life that contributed to her passion. For a young woman who did not come from a wealthy family, who was not married, though she was engaged a few times, her successes were and extraordinary accomplishment, that were marred only by the onset of World War 2 when her plane was confiscated and perhaps even more so by certain tragedies that touched her life and dramatically altered its course.

The novel pays a fitting tribute to this lost heroine of the skies and sees past that ‘driven’ aspect of her character that is too often portrayed as a negative characteristic in a woman, particularly of that era she lived in.

Dame Fiona Kidman will be appearing at the Belfast Book Fest on Saturday June 11 and at New Zealand night at Foyles Charing Cross London on June 14, 2016:

A short documentary created after the discovery of the passing of the legendary Jean Batten:

Jean Batten : The Garbo of the Skies – Documentary 1988

Every flyer who ventures across oceans to distant lands is a potential explorer; in his or her breast burns the same fire that urged the adventurers of old to set forth in their sailing-ships for foreign lands. Riding through the air on silver wings instead of sailing the seas with white wings, he must steer his own course, for the air is uncharted, and he must therefore explore for himself the strange eddies and currents of the ever-changing sky in its many moods.

Jean Batten

 

To Purchase This Book Click Here:  The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman

Note: The book was an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) kindly provided by the publisher Aardvark Bureau, an imprint of Gallic Books.

Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones

I have been missing writing reviews lately and won’t be back to it for a little while yet, but here is a link to my most recent review, which I wrote for BookBrowse, along with a short article that goes beyond the book and looks into a related subject.

Paint Your WifeThe book I reviewed was Lloyd Jones Paint Your Wife.

Lloyd Jones is a New Zealand writer, most well-known for his novel Mr Pip which made the Booker Prize shortlist and won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize.

Paint Your Wife is the story of the inhabitants of a small community, living in a town that has lost its charm and begins to rediscover it, when one of its citizens displays portraits of the towns women that he painted while their husbands were away at war.

It is a charming, fascinating insight, a kind of domestic novel, but from the male perspective and a tribute to picking up a paintbrush and pausing for some hours to actually observe what it is that is in front of you.

Pierre-Bonnard-The-Bathroom

Pierre Bonnard, The Bathroom

The accompanying article is about a number of well-known artists mentioned in the book, who painted their wives.

One in particular, whom the character Alma was fascinated by, the French artist Pierre Bonnard, only ever painted his wife from memory, something Alma aspired to.

Here is the link to my review at BookBrowse, the complete review will only be available for a short time for non-members, so check it out soon. It’s in This Weeks Top Picks, currently.

Click on the title to go to the review:

Book Review, Paint Your Wife

To buy a copy of the book, you can find it by clicking here:

Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones

 

Lloyd Jones recently wrote a memoir about his family history, called A History of Silence, there is a link to an extraordinary radio interview below, I am really looking forward to reading it and shall be writing more about him here in the near future.

A History of Silence

Links

Radio Interview – Uncovering the Mystery of his Family’s Past

Guest Post: ‘Conversations with the Universe: How the World Speaks to Us’ by Simran Singh

I’d like to introduce you to my friend Ana who I’ve known since I was 9 years old, went to school with, hung out in London in my 20’s with, celebrated the arrival of the new millennium with and many other great memories, past, present and future.

Claire and Ana playing scrabble in Raglan, New Zealand, just before the turn of the century.

Claire and Ana playing scrabble in Raglan, New Zealand, just before the turn of the century.

Ana is a life coach and mindfulness teacher and will be writing the occasional review on books of a spiritual nature, I asked her to say a little about her reading and life, so here she is in her own words and you can also follow her on her new blog/website Ana Reyes – Life Coach where she will be writing about life issues, life lessons, sharing inspirational resources, reviewing books and conducting life coach sessions, either in person or via Skype.

Meet Ana!

A heartfelt thanks to my friend Claire for sharing her inspiration, motivation & practical know how. Without you I would not be “live!” My hope in these books, is that a sentence, chapter or even entire book supports, nourishes and guides you on your journey. Enjoy!

I have always loved books that inspire, challenge and offer an alternative window through which to view life. I’ve trawled through, and read dozens of books on the library shelves with Dewey Decimal numbers linked to personal growth, meditation, the esoteric, angels…the list goes on. I cannot get enough. Many have made an impression, a fingerprint either small or large and ultimately I’ve learnt from them. For that, and these authors I’m truly grateful.

I was born in the Canary Islands, educated in Catholic schools and live in New Zealand; currently the South Island. Alongside my love of reading inspirational books, I’m a mum, teacher, life coach and yoga student. I have a fascination for astrology and a deep appreciation for my soul group of friends.

I hope you enjoy the reviews and I appreciate your thoughts on the books we explore together.

Review: Conversations With the Universe

“The Universe never stops talking to you. It avails itself of every possible avenue to get your attention.”

Simran Singh first came to my awareness through an interview I listened too. That interview led me to her TED talk, her 11:11 talk radio show and then to this book, ‘Conversations with the Universe.’

It’s a captivating read. Both immense in concepts that challenge our often narrow views of life and wise in guidance on how to broaden our perspective to see the benevolence & beauty within ourselves and others.

Singh is a passionate messenger. She says we are more than we realise. More powerful, more beautiful. In fact Divine. To evolve our Divinity, the world, or our world, guides and communicates to us on a daily basis.

The key for us, is to notice the signs, synchronicities and symbols that fill our days and dreams and to see them as self-created messages that encourage and guide us into alignment with our highest good. Observing these messages, whether it is a song on the radio, a repeating number or an alarm going off in the distance, all have relevance if we choose to notice.

universeGiven this, our world is a classroom in which we have abundant opportunities to heal and transform. Through this lens we are our flat tyre, the butterfly on the windowsill, the flooded basement.

The question to ask ourselves is: What is before me? What is here for me to heal/learn/grow? In this view our outer world is a reflection of us.

There are anecdotal stories woven into the chapters illustrating nothing in life is random, that all is a symphony asking us to become who we are meant to be. The true “Self.”

“We are the mess, the message and the messenger of our lives.”

‘Conversations with the Universe’ is a deeply compassionate book. It emphasises self-reflection and inner healing to free ourselves of suffering and at the same time reassure us:

“Whether you are stuck in your muck and liking it or rewriting your story and becoming the hero, there is magic in your midst.”

We are encouraged to live bigger, with less fear and to see beyond our narrow ‘reality’ (really illusion). To understand our birth right is to live fully and joyously.

The Sunset HD Desktop BackgroundThere are practical exercises throughout the book to encourage reflection of both our inner and outer worlds. Acceptance, awareness and forgiveness are necessities: we are human, imperfect, but at the same time magnificent Divine co-creators of our life.

“You are not on a journey, YOU are the journey. That journey is asking you to experience YOU in discovery. This means that there is no end goal or destination but a never-ending path of realizing ALL that you are. Step into the magnificence of infinite possibility.”

I loved Singh’s palpable wisdom and inspiration, captured through her beautiful writing style. Paragraphs and pages needed to be re-read to allow my mind and heart to expand around the author’s vast view of life. It’s a book that could be re-read many times and with each reading new insights would emerge. It’s definitely one that will stay on my bedside table for a long, long time.

Our lives are designed beautifully. They have been created in the most unconditionally loving way, without interference or hindrance, other than that of our own choosing. But they also have the gifts of ‘choice’ and ‘asking.’

Thank you so much Ana for sharing with us your own insightful and thoughtful review of such an inspired book, full of resonance and wisdom. We certainly do need more of these reminders in our daily lives, not just to keep us in line with who we really are, but to drown out the often loud and distracting noise of the media.

Buy This Book

If you are interested to learn more,click on the link below to buy the book.

Buy Conversations with the Universe at Book Depository

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Buddha in the AtticBuddha in the Attic is a unique novella told in the first person plural “we”,  narrating the story of a group of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago.

In eight chapters, that read like a rhythmical chant, it traces the brides’ lives, beginning at the point of departure after leaving their predictable village lives, to the much-anticipated, though often frightening, boat journey and their arrival in San Francisco.

Some of us were so dizzy we could not even walk, and lay in our berths in a dull stupor, unable to remember our own names, not to mention those of our new husbands. Remind me one more time, I am Mrs. Who?

It recounts their first nights as new wives, the hard manual labour in new fields, cleaning house for white women, their struggles to master the language and understand the culture, to experiences in childbirth, as mothers, raising children who will lose their heritage and history, though continue to be marked by it, with the terrifying arrival of war and it damning label of them as the enemy.

At night we sat in our kitchens with our husbands as they pored over the day’s papers, scrutinizing every line, every word, for clues to our fate. We discussed the latest rumours. I hear they’re putting us into work camps to grow food for the troops.

Julie Otsuka has created a unique and original way to narrate the collective story of these Japanese mail order brides and their many experiences around common themes, we imagine the narrator as one of them, though we do not know which of the experiences are hers, as she balances them equally, one beside the other, in repetitive, elegiac prose.

This collective storytelling in effect brings our perception of them together, creating a sense of community, despite the suffering. It s as if, through sharing their experiences in these paragraphs, they become stronger, better able to cope, the author bringing them together. The “we” narrative unites them, we read and feel for them as a group, as if they are together. Otsuka brings them together in a lyrical expression of tasks, sufferings, looks, sighs, memories.

Apart from the initial boat ride over the seas from Japan to the US, there is little joy, they discover they are the lowest of low in the pecking order, equivalent to slaves, seen as quiet and submissive, hard workers.  Some take it in their stride, others will fall by the wayside.

They admired us for our strong backs and nimble hands/ Our stamina. Our discipline. Our docile dispositions. Our unusual ability to tolerate the heat, which on summer days in the melon fields of Brawley could reach 120 degrees. They said that our short stature made us ideally suited for work that required stooping low to the ground. Wherever they put us they were pleased. We had all the virtues of the Chinese – we were hardworking, we were patient, we were unfailingly polite – but none of their vices – we didn’t gamble or smoke opium, we didn’t brawl, we never spat. We were faster than the Filipinos and less arrogant than the Hindus. We were more disciplined than the Koreans. We were soberer than the Mexicans. We were cheaper to feed than the Okies ad Arkies, both the light and the dark. A Japanese can live on a teaspoonful of rice a day. We were the best breed of worker they had ever hired in their lives.

041812_1115_HotelontheC2.gifAnd as if it couldn’t get any worse, war happens, and they discover they are the enemy, they are regarded suspiciously and in time sent away.

This part is narrated by “them”, the communities within which they have existed alongside, though never really been a part of, certainly not appreciated – at least not until the Orkies and Arkies move in, who are not quiet and hard-working like the Japanese.

It is a soulful lament, a long sad narrative of a life of toil and disappointment that is endured, a disappearance that is unwarranted, a tribute to those who dreamed of a better life, who travelled across an ocean believing they would find it only to be betrayed bitterly.

041812_1115_HotelontheC1.jpgIt reminded me, not in style, but in subject of Jamie Ford’s The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a story of childhood friends in Seattle, second generation immigrants caught up in the brutal reality of being perceived as untrustworthy, having the skin of an enemy.

Their plows weighed more than we did, and were difficult to use, and their horses were twice the size of our horses back home in Japan. We could not harness them without climbing up on orange crates, or standing on stools, and the first time we shouted out to them to move they just stood there snorting and pawing at the ground. Were they deaf? Were they dumb? Or were they just being stubborn? “These are American horse,” our husbands explained. “They don’t understand Japanese.” And so we learned our first words of horse English. “Giddyap” was what you said to make the horse go forward, and “Back” was what you said to make it back up. “Easy” was what you said to make it slow down, and “Whoa” was what you said to make it stop. And after fifty years in America these would be the only words of English some of us could still remember by heart.

Julie Otsuka speaks here (in English) about the inspiration behind Buddha in the Attic, which won the French Prix Femina Etranger 2012 translated as Certaines n’avaient jamais vu la mer for the French edition.