Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (tr. Stephen Snyder)

revengeWomen in Translation month (#WITMonth), hosted by Biblibio, is in its last week and has moved its focus to the Americas. However, I got stuck in Asia. After reading several positive reviews of Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge, I decided to give her “eleven dark tales” a try.

Written in sparse prose and a first-person voice, the stories at first seemed strangely bland to me. There was little emotion, and most of the time, there was no indication of whether the narrator was a man or a woman. While most stories had an unusual element—ranging from a deserted post office full of kiwis to a person whose heart has grown on the outside of her rib cage—I didn’t find each story by itself particularly disturbing.

And yet this book gave me goose bumps. Why? Because all of these stories are quite masterfully linked together. The links start out small, but become more and more prominent. At first, it is a place or a fruit, but later it is a person or an event. The stepmother of one protagonist is also the tenant of a woman who grows hand-shaped carrots. A murderer is also the neighbor of someone who fantasizes about torturing her boyfriend.

At the beginning of each new story, I found myself not only wondering about what macabre twist would reveal itself, but also how it would connect to previous and coming stories. With each newly revealed connection, I had to reassess characters and reposition myself to accommodate a new viewpoint. It is this constant shifting that builds tension and grows into something much darker than I had anticipated after the first two or three stories. While each story can be read separately, I think here the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. As a whole, this story collection is wonderfully creepy and stays with you long after you finish reading. It is definitely worth a future reread.

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4 comments

  1. I was quite disappointed with this collection and don’t think it was up to Ogawa’s usual standard of writing. I liked the first few stories, but then it all got a bit too bizarre for me. 🙂

  2. As you say, these stories work so well as a complete collection. Part of the (slightly macabre) satisfaction comes from trying to spot the links between characters and locations.

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