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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

I am a Japanese Writer

Dany Laferrière

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To purchase I am a Japanese Writer

Title: I am a Japanese Writer
Author: Dany Laferrière
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 264 pages
Original in: French
Availability: I am a Japanese Writer - US
I am a Japanese Writer - Canada
Je suis un écrivain japonais - Canada
Je suis un écrivain japonais - France
Ich bin ein japanischer Schriftsteller - Deutschland
  • French title: Je suis un écrivain japonais
  • Translated by David Homel

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Our Assessment:

B+ : amusing literary riff

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Australian . 6/10/2010 Jacqueline Dutton
Canadian Literature A Spring/2009 Mark Harris
The Globe and Mail . 29/10/2010 Michael Redhill
The National . 27/5/2011 Matthew Jakubowski
Nouvel Observateur . 26/6/2008 Claire Julliard

  From the Reviews:
  • "The novel takes the question of identity to magnificent extremes. As the French press made clear, this book sells itself on the title alone. (...) I am a Japanese Writer is a superb introduction to Laferriere's wit for those unfamiliar with his first novel, How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired" - Jacqueline Dutton, The Australian

  • "While this might sound like a picaresque novel shearing off the narrative rails at suicidal speed, Laferriere ultimately proves to be as good at roping in digressions as were his great predecessors, Denis Diderot and Lawrence Sterne. Yes indeed, this is a shaggy dog story, where past and present, near and far, cross paths effortlessly without causing readerly distress. It is a near-masterpiece, despite its disguise as a "make work" project." - Mark Harris, Canadian Literature

  • "The brief sections of this novel, 67 in all, are best described as pensées, since their relationships to each other are more associative than narrative. A plot of sorts ties the novel together when the author's investigations of Japanese authenticity brings him into the inner circle of a famous Japanese singer named Midori. But Laferrière is just playing at cliché with Midori. She's the Hello Kitty side of this novel, the flip side of which is Basho and Mishima, the book's true presiding spirits. (...) Still, those who have had problems with Laferrière's politics in the past -- sexual as well as racial -- won't find any "improvements" in this book. The author who writes (and then publishes) the line "the Japanese vagina is diagonal" doesn't give a fig what his critics think. The saving grace, however is that he's as capable of turning himself into a cardboard cutout as he is anyone else. (...) Authentic experience crosses time, space, and culture. I Am a Japanese Writer is marvellous cabinet of curiosities." - Michael Redhill, The Globe and Mail

  • "(T)here isn't much in the way of a plot, other than the fact that the audacious title the author threw out to his publisher eventually snowballs into a minor international farce of little consequence to the narrator. Laferrière is more interested in delivering an older form of novel, a conversation about ideas and experience (.....) Laferrière favours dozens of short chapters in his work, and his writing is often elegantly random." - Matthew Jakubowski, The National

  • "On est souvent obligé d'en arrêter la lecture pour rire. Fantaisiste, il offre aussi une réflexion sur la capacité de la littérature à bousculer l'ordre établi." - Claire Julliard, Nouvel Observateur

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Je suis un écrivain japonais (forthcoming in English as I am a Japanese Writer) is a playful work of fiction in which an author finds that even an unwritten work can lead to all sorts of unforeseen consequences. Much of the novel has to do with authorial identity, and it features a narrator who bears a close resemblance to the author, a Haitian-born, French-writing author living in Canada.
       The premise is simple and brilliant: the author's publisher wants another work from him, but he doesn't have anything yet. What he does have is a knack for titles -- he's the fastest draw in America when it comes to titles, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. apparently told his wife (that's what she told the narrator) -- and when his editor asks about his new book he at least has that to offer: Je suis un écrivain japonais ('I am a Japanese Writer'). The editor is immediately sold on it, on the basis of those five little words alone, and the contract for 10,000 euros is signed.
       The narrator knows that a good title counts for a lot (as does his editor) -- but he doesn't think of this one as just some joke. Indeed, he claims: 'I truly consider myself a Japanese writer.' Not that he's entirely sure what that means .....
       If you have the title, most of the work is done -- that's his theory, anyway. It doesn't work out that way; he actually has a hard time writing the accompanying novel. Or not so hard: he doesn't seem to try all that much.
       He does consider the question of authorial identity, however: what makes a writer Japanese ? Is identity -- especially for a writer -- national ? ethnic ? linguistic ? He's been pigeon-holed before, on the basis of his background and appearance, after all. But Japanese ? The narrator is taken by the poetry by Basho he reads, but on the other hand he doesn't even know anyone from Asia. He approaches someone he thinks might be from Japan, and when the man tells him he's from Korea he doesn't think there can be too much difference.
       The Korean does give him a tip -- for $20 -- where he might find someone authentically Japanese, sending him to seek out Midori and her pop music group -- a rising star, and Montreal's top Japanese singer. That leads to some intercultural exchange, as does a meeting with some Japanese officials: the vice-consul Mishima, his assistant Tanizaki (yes, many of the Japanese he encounters conveniently share the names of famous writers -- not that the narrator can even tell them apart). They're intrigued by the title of the book, and by its implications. The narrator doesn't offer them any helpful answers, but they -- and soon all of Japan -- eagerly follow the development of this idea. The book -- well, the title -- strikes a nerve and chord. Soon enough there's a Japanese writer who comes out with a book titled: Je suis un écrivain malgache ('I am a Malagasy [Madagascaran] writer') .....
       In short chapters the narrator goes about his life -- though his semi-embrace (he's not always whole-heartedly into or sure of the role) of this Japanese writing-persona causes constant comical situations, as it gets him more attention than he could have imagined. Not always of the predictable sort, either: indeed, even reading Basho -- at least when he's doing it -- is frowned upon in certain establishments .....
       Je suis un écrivain japonais is an amusing riff on authorial identity, and shifts back and forth entertainingly between the serious question of what it means to identify oneself (or a writer) in a specific way and the amusing would-be adventures of a rather carefree author who takes things more or less as they come (though he should perhaps avoid the salmon). Clever stuff, and good entertainment -- with just the right amount of thought-provocation.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 May 2010

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I am a Japanese Writer: Reviews: Other books by Dany Laferrière under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Dany Laferrière was born in Haiti in 1953, and now lives in Canada.

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