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Novels and nonfiction about ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’

Japan, a despised enemy during World War II, but regarded now by many Americans with affection, the “Land of the Rising Sun” is a complicated mixture of nuances, wackines, and rich history.

American youth are especially crazy for Japan. They love Japanese comic books and cartoons (“manga” and “anime”), Japanese food such as ramen and sushi, and eccentric Japanese pop culture novelties such as cat cafes (a coffee shop where you can also pet cats) and cosplay (dressing up as your favorite manga or anime character). And to define “youth,” I’m going by Florida years and including anyone 1 to 101.

Most people go to Japan for a quick trip to see the sights, but some go to Japan to walk the road less traveled. “The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World,” is author Tracy Slater’s true story of falling in love with a Japanese businessman and diligently forging a life with him in Japan despite her lack of fluency with Japanese language and culture. By the way, “shufu” is Japanese for “housewife.”

Mystery and suspense fans will love Jessie Ball’s “Silence Once Begun,” a novel that fans have described as nothing like they’ve ever read before. A journalist becomes obsessed with the disappearances of eight people in a small Japanese town and the innocent man who writes a confession to the crime, but will not speak a word. Determined to tease out the truth, if there is a truth, the journalist is warned by everyone to trust no one.

For a truly epic reading experience, pick up the Kafkaesque “1Q84” by popular Japanese author Haruki Murakami. This hugely ambitious novel has been compared to James Joyce’s “Ulysses” as well as George Orwell’s “1984.” If you like Murakami’s writing style and themes, try his latest novel with the unwieldy title of “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage.”

We still can’t talk about Japan without mentioning World War II. Many memoirs and historical novels use the war as a backdrop for the complicated and often devastating emotions that come with the uncertainty and horrors we inflict on each other. Pamela Rotner Sakamoto’s “Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught between Two Worlds” tells the fraught relationship between Japanese-American brothers on opposite sides of WWII and the fallout of their well-intentioned decisions.

Fans of the fictional “Memoirs of a Geisha” will be equally moved by Jackie Copleton’s debut novel of loss, love, guilt and heartbreak, “A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding.” Amaterasu Takahashi believes her daughter and grandson to be victims of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, but when her badly scarred grandson appears on her Philadelphia doorstep, he brings with him all the family and personal secrets Amaterasu sought to escape when she left Japan for the United States. Japanese history and culture before, during, and after the Nagasaki bombing are woven into a story that makes for a perfect book club read.

Read the library’s new literary and art journal, 805, for free at www.805lit.org. Submissions of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art accepted year-round and worldwide.

Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. Stephanie Katz is technology librarian for the Manatee County Public Library System.

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