A Novelist Writing Modern Japanese Literature in the Japanese Language
Minae Mizumura is a novelist based in Tokyo. She also writes essays and literary criticism. Her work, appearing in books, major journals and newspapers, has won both critical acclaim and a wide readership.
Born in Tokyo, she moved with her family to Long Island, New York when she was twelve. After studying fine art in Boston and then living in Paris, she went on to study French Literature at Yale College and Yale Graduate School.
While a graduate student, Mizumura published "Renunciation" (Yale French Studies 69, 1985), a critical essay on the work of a renowned literary critic Paul de Man, shortly after his death. The essay studied the turn in his career by analyzing the frequent appearance and the sudden disappearance of the word "renunciation" from his work, thereby concluding that de Man renounced the possibility of renunciation itself. The essay is often cited as one of the earliest contributions toward a comprehensive study of de Man's writings. Upon finishing her M.Phil. program, Mizumura returned to Japan to devote herself to writing fiction in her native language.
She has taught modern Japanese literature at Princeton, the University of Michigan, and Stanford, and had been a resident novelist in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. She has given talks, readings and keynote lectures at many public gatherings and academic conferences. She is also a selected author, Japanese Literature Publishing Project (JLPP), Agency for Cultural Affairs, the Government of Japan.
Mizumura’s first novel, Light and Darkness Continued, 1990, completed the unfinished classic, Light and Darkness, 1917, by Natsume Soseki (1865-1917), the greatest modern Japanese novelist. It put an end to the long-standing controversies among writers, critics, and scholars as to how Soseki’s final work would have concluded. Written in Soseki’s now-archaic and idiosyncratic style, Light and Darkness Continued won the Minister of Education Award for New Artists in 1991.
Her second novel, An I Novel from left to right, 1995, is a fictionalized autobiography, a cherished genre in Japan. With English expressions interwoven into the Japanese text, the novel marked the first time that Japanese literature was printed horizontally. It humorously portrayed the author’s life as an expatriate’s daughter who comes of age in the U.S. while immersed in reading Japanese literature. The book won the Noma New Author Award in 1996.
Her third novel, A Real Novel, 2002, is a retelling of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights in postwar Japan, featuring a half-Chinese, half-Japanese Heathcliff, along with an ever more problematic narrator, Nelly. It received the Yomiuri Prize for Literature, 2003, a major literary award whose past winners include the novelists Kenzaburo Oe, Kobo Abe, and Yukio Mishima. Translations of A Real Novel are published in French, Spanish, Chinese and Korean. English translation is currently in preparation.
Her most recent work, Inheritance from Mother, A Newspaper Novel, 2012, centers around a woman in her fifties who cares for her dying mother. While staying alone at a forlorn lake-front hotel in Hakone, a historic mountain resort near Tokyo, she contemplates her mother's legacy and her own divorce and precarious independence. The novel first appeared in installments in the Yomiuri, the most popular newspaper in Japan. It won the Osaragi Jiro Award for 2012, commemorating the most accomplished book in prose, including both fiction and non-fiction. Spanish translation is currently in preparation.
Mizumura’s exchange with another novelist about reading literature was published in a book called Letters with Bookmarks Attached, 1998, a compilation of epistolary essays on the historic literary works from around the world. They were originally serialized in the Asahi Newspaper.
Mizumura’s Fall of the Japanese Language in the Age of English, 2008, gained attention outside of literary circles by suggesting a radical change in national policy to save the human treasure of Japanese language. The first Indo-European language to have established a modern nation state in Asia may degenerate to a mere local language, Mizumura warns, with the onslaught of English, linga franca of our time. She bases her argument on critical reflections on the history of modern Japanese literature. The book won the Kobayashi Hideo Award, one of the most important awards given to a work of non-fiction.
Essays and works of criticism by Mizumura were compiled in two volumes titled To Read in the Japanese Language and To Write in the Japanese Language, 2009.