Agatha Christie versus Her Imitators

Miss Marple knits, even at the beach.
One of Miss Marple's gifts is to recognize the ordinary and everyday in the supposedly bizarre and outlandish. Consequently, even when she is operating outside her usual milieu--sunning herself in the Caribbean, for example--she is able to recognize the lounging beauty as not all that different from the church choir member she knows at home.

Christie's imitators invariably reverse this, meaning they invariably mess it up.

Because they witness Christie's detectives discovering scandal in (even) small villages, they imagine that the bizarre and outlandish resides everywhere, including small villages. The end result is that many films based on Christie books reach a truly bizarre level of soap opera dysfunction. It is the furthest thing in the world from ordinary and human. 

Miss Marple would ultimately find that Brittany Spears precisely resembles the girl in the church choir. But script writers of Miss Marple always want to discover that the girl in the church choir is actually Brittany Spears. This is not Christie's modus operandi. According to Miss Marple (and her creator), rather than scandals lurking behind every door, ordinary petty silly common behavior lurks behind every door, including the doors that supposedly hide exciting scandals.

Take this exchange at a dinner party regarding a South Seas mystery:
Dr. Lloyd: They were two English ladies--the thoroughly nice travelling English that you find abroad . . .nothing exciting or remarkable would ever happen to either of them . . . I looked from them back to our sinuous Spanish woman with her half-closed smouldering eyes, and I smiled. [As my friend said] life would not pass her by. [But] as it happens, my friend and I were wrong. Nothing in the least exciting happened to the Spanish beauty. She married a clerk in a shipping office, and by the time I left the island she had had five children and was getting very fat.
Miss Marple: Just like that girl of Israel Peters. The one who went on the stage and had such good legs that they made her principal boy in the pantomime. Everyone said she'd come to no good, but she married a commercial traveller and settled down splendidly.

Dr. Lloyd: My story is about the two English ladies. 
Of course, an inordinate number of murders occur in
cozy Cabot Cove. Jessica Fletcher rises above them all.
The imitators would have the two English ladies turn out to be secret, steamy Latin dancers. Which would, of course, utterly miss the point.

Christie is often accused of producing "cozies," tidy mysteries where bad things are quickly disposed of in well-maintained manor houses. Her imitators want to point out that Christie had a dark side, which is true, by "exposing" the cozy, which is a mistake.

Rather than showing that every hamlet is threaded with evil, Christie saw every hamlet as far less DARK and DISTURBING and DRAMATIC and ANGST-FILLED than we humans often insist on--which is probably why she irritated Raymond Chandler fans. It's difficult to be a DARK and DISTURBED and DRAMATIC and ANGST-FILLED detective if Miss Marple is there to point out, "Hey, you really aren't behaving all that differently from the posturing poet back home."

Body Language on Television

In her commentary on Prime Suspect 1, Helen Mirren relates how she visited Scotland Yard and interviewed female Detective Inspectors before filming began. One of the surprising things they told her: "Don't fold your arms!" It looks commanding--it even feels that way--but it actually sends a defensive message

"Keep your arms by your side," they told her instead.

The most authoritative look is for the arms to hang loose from straight shoulders.

Which led me to wonder: Is Star Trek and those leotard type costumes which wrinkle if a person moves wrong in fact good leadership practice?

P is for Peck

Richard Peck has written numerous YA books from funny to very, very serious. My favorite series by him, however, is usually found in the kid's section: the Blossom Culp books.

The Blossom Culp books, narrated in first-person by Blossom Culp, take place (mostly) in the early 20th century in a small town that has one automobile and still relies on outhouses for its sewer system. The setting and aura are reminiscent of Fitzgerald's Great Brain series.  There are four books total and one is a time travel story.

Blossom Culp is a young teen who discovers she has second sight. The first major book in the series is Ghosts I Have Been (preceded by a smaller book The Ghost Belonged to Me) which centers around the Titanic. Which goes to show that my interest in the Titanic preceded the movie--I read Ghosts I Have Been years earlier.

Blossom Culp is a great heroine because she is smart and sassy without being SMAAAAART and SASSSSSSSSY. Sometimes, teen female heroines make me feel the way I do when people kept pushing me to watch Veronica Mars because "you'll totally love it." I didn't. I much prefer the self-effacing and ironic Buffy to the in-your-face, look-at-me-being-smart-and sassy Veronica Mars.

Blossom is smart and funny and normal. She feels self-conscious and tells herself not to. She sometimes feels sad. She sometimes reflects on the oddities of life. She's relatable. She's a character, not a teen girl playing a part.

Denial: Creating an Emotional Arc

Richard Evans
Denial tackles the David Irving v. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt case where Irving brought a libel suit against Lipstadt--if he had won, her work(s) would have been censored in Great Britain (the burden of libel in England lies on the defendant, not the plaintiff). The movie uses Deborah Lipstadt's History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving as its core source.

I have not read Lipstadt's book. I have read Richard Evans' fascinating Lying About Hitler in which he details the extensive research he did on Irving's writing. Evans was able to show, conclusively, that Irving consistently distorted the historical record to meet his own ideological ends--even going so far as ignoring his own notes, which indicated that he clearly understood the original texts.

I have also read The Holocaust on Trial by D.D. Guttenplan which is an overview of the trial from a journalist's perspective.

Denial clearly strives to remain accurate and therein lies the writing rub. The problem with "true life" dramas is that the writers can either sacrifice accuracy for DRAMA or fall back on making a documentary (there was in fact a docudrama made of the case with John Castle as Irving).

Denial avoids the two extremes for two reasons: (1) unbelievably fantastic actors; (2) an emotional arc.

The unbelievably fantastic actors include Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins) as Richard Rampton, the trial lawyer; Rachel Weisz in glowing form as Deborah Lipstadt (in the "Making Of" clip, Weisz and Lipstadt are interviewed together; an older Lipstadt reports, "My friends say she captured my accent completely!"); Mark Gatiss looking quite unlike his dapper Mycroft self.

Timothy Spall delivers a David Irving who is, based on my reading, closer to Guttenplan's assessment than Evans'. Evans loathed Irving. Guttenplan, in typical journalistic fashion, wanted to understand him as a man of painfully prejudiced and racist views who nevertheless did not appear to carry about any prejudiced and racist visceral responses (such as getting uncomfortable around the Jewish Guttenplan, for example, which Irving didn't). Irving is not a good guy, but he is a sad one. In the trial, he wanted to sell himself as a maverick at the same time that he wanted acceptance by the British "establishment." Spall accomplishes this complexity with some monologues, spot-on body language, and a smattering of back-and-forth dialog.

Alex Jennings is so perfectly cast as Sir Justice Charles Gray, I clapped my hands when I saw him.

And Andrew Scott as Anthony Julius is a wonder to behold. For Sherlock fans, Andrew Scott is Moriarty. I'm not a huge fan of his Moriarty because I'm not a huge fan of creepy, seemingly omniscient BIG BAD GUYS. I far prefer Andrew Scott as Julius. He manages to invest this innocuous-looking lawyer (barrister) with something of Moriarty's charm, quickness of wit, and indefinable "uh, what nutty thing is that guy going to do next" quality. Yet he doesn't come across as crazy. Rather, he comes across as someone to be very, very careful around. (Anthony Julius was Diana's divorce attorney--anyone operating at that level is something a little uncanny, no matter how "establishment.")

What makes the film work in the end, however, is not the cast. They help. Tremendously! And since I love legal/crime stuff so much, I probably would still have enjoyed viewing Denial without the second point, but the second point is what makes it a story:

Lipstadt's emotional arc.

Without this, the movie would simply be a matter of person A doing something, then person B doing something, then person C (Evans) getting on the stand and spitting nails at Irving. Interesting for people who like that sort of thing. But not a story.

Unfortunately, too often, writers of "true" events create story by having really bizarre stuff happen--like, for example, having the first officer on the Titanic shoot himself (he didn't).

By keeping the eye on Lipstadt's struggle with British due process plus with her attorneys' (correct) decision that the trial should focus on Irving the historian, not the Holocaust (which would entail calling survivors whose memories have blurred), the script gains ballast. A reviewer on IMBD mentions that the script is incredibly tight (considering the subject matter, it is *only* two hours long) and seems to have been written and rewritten to focus as much as possible on its arc. The reviewer is correct.

The end result is that (unfortunately) we don't get to see much of the testimony. Yet the movie does capture the feeling, ideologies, and purpose of the trial. It is accurate in the "yes that's what happened" sense rather than in the "on Day 4, this particular thing happened" sense. The subjective viewpoint--Lipstadt's rage at Irving's incendiary words; her disgust at the "live and let live" attitude of the British Jewish community; her brash American-ness; her growing affection and admiration for Richard Rampton (repeated by the real Lipstadt in the interview); her decision to put the trial's outcome above her desire to 'speak out'--holds the movie together. And Weisz does it all without misstep.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree, Coincidences in Fiction, and Human Behavior

I apply the same rule to "suspension of disbelief" as the courts do to "fruit of the poisonous tree."

Law & Order 101: the detectives discover evidence based on an illegal search warrant; the judge determines that since the warrant was illegal, anything coming from the warrant is also illegal.

BUT if the detectives/lawyers can prove that they would have come upon that evidence in a different, legal way, the evidence is allowed to stand. It is no longer "fruit of the poisonous tree."

I apply the same caveat to plot points that rely on coincidence, last minute revelations, or random miscommunications. The coincidence, last minute revelation, or random miscommunication results in the murderer being caught, the hero/heroine being saved, and/or the lovers miraculously changing their minds and not getting on the boat.

And I roll my eyes. Unless I decide that the outcome would have occurred anyway. Then, I let it go.

In Star Trek: Next Generation's "The Most Toys," the Enterprise rapidly figures out that Data was likely kidnapped. The clues that lead them to that conclusion are quite clever--it's a decent investigation. Still, I feel better knowing that Data's survival would have leaked back to the Federation eventually in any case (no way would the kidnapper's so-called friends not have spread rumors about his "new robot"). It's more interesting that Data strives to get away. It helps that his retrieval would probably have happened no matter what.

And the rescue of Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings doesn't bother me. (I've discussed elsewhere why the eagles couldn't have flown them into Mordor.) The eagles' rescue operation at the end isn't a coincidence or a sudden solution. The solution/end has already been achieved. Frodo and Sam did as they promised, and unlike Gollum, Frodo is still sane. It is already a happy ending. Tolkien simply supplied an eucatastrophic (his term) extension of mercy. There was no reason not to.

Moving on to murder mysteries . . . many of Agatha Christie's mysteries depend on split second timing. Death on the Nile remains utterly unbelievable to me. They are so many reasons why it wouldn't have worked, especially since the one murderer is not entirely committed to the cause.

However, Christie's Evil Under the Sun remains plausible. It also depends on split second timing, but if one ignores the convoluted murder, the underlying psychology of the murderers and of the victim give credence to the probability of her being murdered at some point. There is a sense of inevitability. *Spoiler* She is the kind of woman to give her money to a sociopathic con artist (and his wife) who will then use her vulnerability to lure her to a private cove and kill her.

On the other hand, I get extremely tired of murder mystery plots that revolve on the murderer letting some minor detail slip (ah, he wouldn't know that tiny little detail if he wasn't the murderer!). Why do the silly murderers confess? Don't they know how easy it is for a lawyer to explain away a slip of the tongue?

Still, if I REALLY like a story, I simply decide that the whole thing is taking place in some alternate universe where ordinary rules of probability work differently. But not because the whole thing is a dream. Some rules have to apply; otherwise the story ceases to be fun at all. 

British Character Actors: The Canny Dope

A common archetype in British shows, mostly in sitcoms, is the canny dope.

The canny dope is guileless, simple, yet often quite profound with a deep reservoir of insightfulness. Although sometimes the butt of jokes, the canny dope--or underdog--is just as often the producer of them.

Three come to mind:

Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings in Poirot

Hastings is possibly the dopiness of the three--the clueless friend who makes his detective friend look clever simply by being nearby. Unlike Watson, Hastings' existence works less to convince the reader that the detective (Holmes) is brilliant and more to leave the reader pondering why he and the detective are friends at all.

This possibly explains why Christie replaced Hastings with a series of clever policemen after the first few books.

In the television series, Hastings is played by the gentlemanly Hugh Fraser who, like Angela Lansbury, always wears the right clothes in the right way. The reasons for the friendship are obvious. He is friendly, kindly, compassionate, sharp enough to ask good questions, skilled with cars, patient (far more patient than Poirot realizes), and purveyor of all things English. His use to Poirot is to represent and explain common  assumptions and ideas (the kinds of assumptions that English murderers depend on to perform their murders). Consequently, it is Hastings who will, sotto voce, correct Poirot's French-to-English idioms. (This ritual was decided by Fraser and Suchet when the Poirot series began.)

Paul Chapman as Stephen Johnson in As Time Goes By

Stephen Johnson is the husband of Penny, the criticizing sister-in-law of Judi Dench's character Jean. He is typically spoken of as a ditherer and Geoffrey Palmer's Lionel finds him quite exasperating.

He is not quite as awful as his badgering wife, being kindly ("Don't you look pretty?") and well-meaning, as when he plans the semi-disastrous surprise anniversary party. He is also surprisingly wise--as when he informs Jean and Lionel that although Penny says she wants to move to Spain, she will change her mind in a few weeks; he'll keep stumm and go along with her plans until she does. Chapman manages to portray Stephen as entirely consistent all the way from his wooliness to his sensitivity to his grounded common sense.

Emma Chambers as Alice in Vicar of Dibley

Alice is the verger to Dawn French's vicar. She eventually marries Hugo. She is quite extraordinarily obtuse and if Americanized would be the cliche of the hillbilly semi-moronic product of incest in some tiny Appalachian town.

Naturally, she is also impossibly sweet, and Hugo (played by the sexy and wonderful James Fleet) adores her. Not that her sweetness negates her tough side. Her Sigourney Weaver impression from Alien is perfect.

Most importantly, she is responsible for the hilarious "I can't believe it's not butter" speech (below), which, according to legend, she delivered in one go, no retakes, after Dawn French dared her to memorize the speech over a weekend.

O is for O'Brien and Outlandish Science

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh is the type of book I usually don't read--I prefer people, even tiny people like the Borrowers or the Littles.

Anthropomorphized animals don't catch my interest. My apologies to all the Jacques fans in the universe but I never got into the Redwall series (I kept thinking, "Why can't these characters just all be human?").

Having said that, Mrs. Fribsy and the Rats of Nimh is a good book and a good movie (The Secret of Nimh).

The comparison is odd because although the movie makers used sizable chuck from the book, including the entire opening plot sequence, it is also HUGELY different. The book rests on the proposition that the rats are scientifically advanced and wish to become self-sufficient. The movie rests on the idea that scientific advancement comes with mystical advancement--the kind of idea that makes U.F.O. and Bigfoot nuts* happy but drives Sherlock Holmes and Sheldon Copper mad with irritation.

Justin meets Mrs. Brisby
And yet, it works in The Secret of Nimh. I'm not sure why although it could be that I never really bought into the whole Flowers of Algernon idea where the rats became smart due to injections. I mostly hated Flowers of Algernon (although I like its movie version, the Bourne Legacy). So the addition of a mystical element in Nimh didn't bother me even though I tend to side with Holmes and Copper when it come to real science.

Besides which, the movie ends on a more positive note than the book: namely, Justin doesn't die (his death is implied at the end of the book). Interestingly enough, O'Brien's daughter, who wrote a couple of sequels, keeps Justin alive; Justin is totally lovable in the book and when I saw the movie years later, I considered his image/voice a perfect match for his book character.

*U.F.O. and Bigfoot nuts didn't start out that way. In the early 20th century, hunting for the unknown was still a legitimate science; there were unexplored parts of the world (explorations that have now moved into the oceans and into space). Anything could be out there!

There are still explorers of this type among the U.F.O. and Bigfoot crowd although the authors of Abominable Science point out that they may be explorers; they are not trustworthy scientists.

Unfortunately, for the explorer-types, U.F.O. and Bigfoot believers expanded in the 1970s and 1980s to include mystics, fortune-tellers, astrologer-promoters, and crystal-gazers--basically, all the people in Independence Day who get destroyed by the alien spaceships while they are dancing on the roof and holding signs saying, "Welcome!" Belief in E.T. and Bigfoot moved inward, becoming a matter of self-indulgent naval-gazing and the use of hypnosis (as opposed to radio signals) to ponder the possibility of alien contact.

As you might imagined, these new-age believers are enemies of the original believers. Every sect has its fault lines.

Angela Lansbury's Clothes

Lansbury in 2016
It isn't easy for anyone on television from the 1980s to look good.

Can you say . . . mullets?!

There are two actresses that succeeded in wearing 1980s/early 1990s garb with aplomb: Gillian Anderson and Angela Lansbury.

The astonishing aspect of Angela Lansbury is how well she dresses no matter the occasion. She has (yes, she is still alive as of April 19, 2017) the impressive ability to look comfortable and stylish. She wears her clothes--they don't wear her.

Even more impressive is that her clothes look timeless. The Golden Girls' actresses wore 1980s dress to the nth degree. They were of obviously high quality but . . . pastel anyone?

In comparison, Lansbury's clothes from Murder, She Wrote to The Mormon Tabernacle Choir to the Academy Awards are something more than mere "trends"--they are extravagant wear for everyday, any day.

The current actress who comes closest to capturing Lansbury (and Anderson's) ability to wear the right clothes for the right occasion regardless of time period is Lucy Liu (Elementary).






Tom Selleck's Butlers

When he was Magnum, Tom Selleck had Higgins, his major-domo, butler, right-hand-man, factotum. Technically, of course, Higgins didn't work for Magnum, yet he did fulfill all the roles that made it possible for Magnum to live, function, and succeed. Higgins is played by the magnificent John Hillerman who played a similar--but far less supportive--character on Ellery Queen (foil to Jim Hutton).

As the Police Commissioner on Blue Bloods, Tom Selleck has Garrett Moore, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information played by Gregory Jbara. Moore is later joined by Danny's boss, Lieutenant Sidney "Sid" Gormley, played by Robert Clohessy.

Jbara as Moore shows up at the end of Season 1, becoming a regular guest star in Season 2. And then the impact of his character becomes instantly apparent.

Like any strong lead and character actor, Tom Selleck shines when he has a decent actor to bounce dialog off. Some leads are productions unto themselves--and there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that. But actors who thrive within a cast tend to be more interesting in the long-run--at least on television. Selleck's ability to banter, for example, explains his great success on Friends as Monica's boyfriend.

As more Blue Bloods scripts focused on 1 PP, Selleck's ability to banter with the Commissioner's staff became a useful tool--and Moore is one of the best banterees on television. They deliver rapid-fire points at each other that yet feel utterly natural to their personalities and interests. Moore also offers a necessary outside perspective (outside to the police and to the Reagan family). Some of the funniest and also most insightful moments come from these points of contact.

Gormley's addition to the mix doesn't harm the relay of ideas. For one, Moore has to step up his game--Gormley's perspective, though always pro-police, can catch other parties by surprise; he isn't a political animal and doesn't have Commissioner Reagan's natural aura of sophistication. However, as Moore sagely points out to the Commissioner, Gormley is far more ambitious than he will admit even to himself.

Blue Bloods is my favorite type of police procedural largely due to the clean writing--I don't mean "clean" as "absent of expletives" but rather as fresh, non-pretentious, and smart. There's (mostly) no attempt to "fool" the audience (you thought he was a good guy--nope, he's totally evil!). The stories unwind organically; the characters behave as expected but not as stereotyped. As the sometimes fussy, highly opinionated, argumentative and rather urbane Moore--in other words, as a great butler--Jbara fits the Blue Bloods cast. He also gives Selleck more to do than behave paternally displeased with his brood (though those scenes can be fun as well).


Interview with a Translator, Part 2: Words Words Words

From Holy Kaw
Wrapping up with some reflections on language.  

Kate: What accounts for the excessive passive voice and vague pronouns in poorer translations?
Eugene: It's mostly from translating Japanese too quickly and too literally.

Japanese advantages its close integration with the culture and society to "compress" the grammatical structure whenever possible, shifting most of the heavy lifting to the verb and a myriad of agglutinative conjugations at the end of the sentence.

Consider as well that the shadow of feudalism lasted into the 20th century. Along with it came the lexical complexity of marking status and using honorifics. Thus dropping the subject of a sentence became a desired efficiency. (Along with titles taking the place of pronouns.)

But the "compression" in Japanese is often "lossy," which is difficult to reverse because of lost information. Unlike English, which tries to pack all the available data into self-contained sentences (and uses subject placeholders like "it" to keep the structure intact), Japanese can scatter information all across the page.

From the perspective of English grammar, Japanese favors "passive" formations that skip the subject ("Mistakes were made"), and sees no problem in failing to mention the subject for another several paragraphs. A Japanese writer can easily create a page of third-person narrative that fails to clarify the sex of the POV character. That's hard to reproduce in English.

One translation "shortcut" is to have a native Japanese speaker do a rough translation and then have a native English speaker do the cleanup. The problem here is that the cleanup editor may have no way figuring out the antecedent to one of those vague pronouns.
Purple Prose,  Prather-style
Kate: Some light novels have what is sometimes referred to as "purple prose"--it varies considerably from poetic to explicit. Do translators make a conscious choice which approach to take? Does the original text make the decision for the translator?
Eugene: I'd say the original text pretty much dictates the final product. There's always leeway in tone and word choices, but the explicitness of the terminology pretty well controls the explicitness of the prose.

Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and Elmore Leonard wrote detective novels, but their use of "vocabulary," shall we say, is quite different. It mostly comes down to a matter of discerning the sociolinguistic milieu and the genre, and then deciding who the audience is.

 Harlequin novels--rights likely obtained for cheap--turned
into manga by Japanese artists.

Or rather, figuring out who the author pictured as his readers. Once you get all those variables adjusted properly, so that you are writing in the same mindset for the same readers, you don't have to think about it that much.

Although there is always the challenge of making purple prose not sound so purposely purple.
Kate: In the previous interview, we discussed colloquialisms—the difficulty/necessity of translating figurative language between cultures versus letting the phrases/references stand. Some translators seem to fall back on clichés due to lack of imagination. Sometimes, however, the original writer appears to deliberately use a cliché. How does a translator recognize and handle clichés?
Eugene: In a very real sense, all language is a cliché or we couldn't understand each other. Like continents and species, language drifts and mutates. Before long, the past and the present (and the here and there) are miles apart and have adapted to quite different environments.

Language is thus a moving window that attempts to pin down usage within a certain time-frame in order to maximize comprehensibility. Most usage is effectively transparent. We process it without paying undue attention to the semantic and syntactical structure.

When we do start paying attention, that window starts moving. Some usage, like the subjunctive, dwindles away over the protests of a few stubborn grammarians. A lot is like fashion. Some usages never go out of fashion, and others can't go fast enough.

Stock Phrase
So there are expressions that last for centuries, while others, like bell-bottoms, get shipped off to the Salvation Army with a roll of the eyes. And maybe some creative soul will find a totally self-aware use for them that brings the cliché back to life again.

In Japanese, there is a whole category of what are called four character idioms, often adapted from Chinese. They are expressions compressed to their essence, like saying "Two birds one stone." A couple dozen would qualify as cliches. The rest can get quite arcane.

And as in English, Japanese has stock phrases. For the non-native speaker, it can be difficult to identify an ironic usage when it comes into play. Luckily, Japanese tend to avoid irony. But contemporary references can be just as tricky. You can at least look up historical allusions.
Kate: Speaking of allusions, they can crop up unexpectedly. As P.J. O'Rourke mentions, when Senator Kennedy mocked incumbent Vice President Bush during the 1988 Democratic Convention by asking, “Where was Bush [during Reagan’s scandals]?” the reporters watching immediately responded with, “At home, in bed, with his wife.”

Is the creation of contemporary allusions/slogans easier or harder to see in another culture? How “current” do you have to stay in order to “get” other cultures’ allusions?
Eugene: The most recent Godzilla movie apparently makes veiled references to Fukushima and the subsequent political storms. Those are easy enough as long as you keep up on the news. Harder are trends that truly are "socially constructed," that come and go like mayflies.

On the other hand, language that is to subjective would probably not be accessible to a foreign audience either, so translated too literally you could end up with translated language that isn't any more comprehensible. 
Kate: Different countries use different punctuation. For example, American quotations are double (“) on the outside, single (‘) on the inside; the reverse is true in much British literature. And when I was taking French literature, many of the books used <> to indicate a speaker speaking.

What do the Japanese do? Do you “translate” punctuation?
Introduction to Japanese Punctuation
Eugene: I've always found Japanese punctuation to be logical and comprehensible. Perhaps because there is no interference from the familiar conventions I already associate with Latin scripts, my brain maps punctuation marks pretty much on a one-to-one basis.

Japanese has adopted several punctuation marks directly from Latin script, including the exclamation point, question mark, parentheses, and the comma. And increasingly uses smart quotes (“…”) alongside the traditional kagi kakko (「…」 and 『…』).

Emphasis (italics) is indicated with a dot or comma next to (or above) each character (bouten, meaning "side mark").

NHK in particular likes using smart quotes rather like "air quotes." Kagi kakko remain the standard in narrative fiction and the usage is almost the same, although it is quite common for any dialogue enclosed in kagi kakko to be separated into its own paragraph.

Yes, this can at times make it easy to lose track of dialogue tags.
Kate: Is there any grand unifying theory that explains how language works? And does a grand unifying theory help the translator?
Eugene: Language universals do exist, but it's tricky getting from there to the "universal grammar" concepts pioneered by Noam Chomsky, that tie language to structures in the human brain that work exactly the same for everyone everywhere.

As a result, a "linguistic theory of everything" remains as elusive as it does for physicists, who end up with compelling explanations and neat ideas and no way to empirically test them.

Unfortunately, Chomsky was still all the rage when I was in graduate school so I had to study transformational grammar. This was Chomsky's attempt to create a calculus of language.

It is a useful tool for analyzing language but not necessary for creating real-world
Language is a grass-roots thing.
functionality or for describing how language actually works in the minds of the human beings using it.

But in the 1980s, Moore's Law was taking off. The revolution in computer technology
triggered much wishful thinking that rules-based computing could solve all the difficult algorithmic problems that had eluded the more mechanical processes to date.

One of the goals of the Fifth Generation Computer project, initiated by Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1982, was machine translation. It pretty much completely failed.

Simply consider the imprecision of rule-based grammar checkers. They're useful only when paired with human beings who can weed out all the false positives.

A chess or go program based on algorithms alone can play a pretty good game. But beating a smart human requires pattern recognition based on massive real-world data sets and machine learning systems. Saying "Oh, this resembles that" a billion times a second.

Pattern recognition is the key. It's at the core of all modern machine translation systems. It's what the human brain does best (so well we eagerly perceive patterns where they don't exist).

But, again, we can't confuse explanation with application, descriptions of how language works with prescriptions of how it ought to work. What's of actual use to a translator also involves universals but at a much higher level. I'm talking about story universals.

In other words, Joseph Campbell instead of Noam Chomsky. Less universal grammar and more monomyth. (Well, and you do need a good copy editor.)

Granted, art can get so abstract at one extreme, and so culturally-bound at the other, as to defeat reasonable attempts to identify the shared patterns. But neither is there a point in translating stories without universal appeal.
Ah, words are not enough . . . except, Thanks, Eugene!

Interview with a Translator, Part 2: The Act of Translation

Poseidon of the East
The next two posts deal with the nitty-gritty aspect of translation: "All those words"!

Kate: While translating, what enables the translation process to get easier? What still causes difficulties?
Eugene: What enables the translation process to get easier is translating. The more you translate a particular author, the more you get used to that author's particular use of the language. Though you tend to absorb it along the way, so it's not something you pay a lot of attention to, if you notice it at all.

The fast pace at which translations have to be churned out to be profitable means you have to end up going with the "good enough" or even the "I'm pretty sure it's not totally wrong" version.

When you've only got time for copyediting (forget about line editing), an easy mistake to make is translating a certain expression the same way every time. Not all redundancies are created equal.
For example, it's not a good idea to get clever with a word like "said." But when readers point out that I've overused a particular expression, that I've simply translated the same expression the same way isn't a good excuse. When the reader starts noticing the prose, something's wrong.
The Wings of Dreams
Kate: In my various light novel readings, obvious differences about the original authors come apparent (some are better at plotting than others). It is harder to gauge tone--so much depends on the translator! However, some differences do tend to appear. Do you sense a difference in tone when translating?
Eugene: Not really, at least probably not during the translation process.

The problem with tone is that it arises as a byproduct of the entire effort. To be sure, I can get a grasp from the start on genre, whether the prose is "hard-boiled" or "romance" or "high fantasy, and that dictates the tone and register of the translation.

I tend to begin with assumptions and adjust them along the way.

I do notice writing quality. The better the writing, the easier it is to translate. Vocabulary is of only peripheral importance. The Chinese cognates Fuyumi Ono uses don't make her prose more difficult to understand, though it can take longer to think up translations for fantasy terms.

If the worst thing you can say about somebody's writing is that you have to look up some words in the dictionary, you're on firm ground.

I've been surprised at how readable Natsume Soseki is. Granted some of his vocabulary and usages are dated (as well as the geographical references to Tokyo a century ago), but his prose does not otherwise suffer from any lack of clarity.  
Shadow of the Moon
Kate: Many of the light novels I've encountered--with a few exceptions--seem quite Jane Austen-like in their semi-omniscient narrators. Points of view shift easily within a chapter. Do Japanese novels worry about point of view or is that a Western obsession? 
Eugene: I don't know if this is something that Japanese writers writing about writing worry about to the same extent that English writers writing about writing worry about it.

In Shadow of the Moon, Fuyumi Ono maintains an admirably strict third-person POV with the omniscience voice limited to the protagonist alone, the world seen only from her perspective. And even in her multiple POV novels, she doesn't let her omniscience wander.

Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with "head-hopping," but I think this speaks more to the skill and style of the writer than to the culture. I suspect the ongoing tension between the two is a pretty universal concern--among those of us who think excessively about such things.

For everybody else, what matters is whether the author tells a compelling story. Less about how.
A Thousand Leagues of Wind
Kate: As a reader, I occasionally note plot errors in novels. One paragraph said that the character went home but the next paragraph clearly indicates that the character went to school. I don’t assume it is the translator's fault! As a writer, I am always wary of making these types mistakes (a character sets out to do something in the morning but in the next scene, I mistakenly refer to the time of day as "twilight"). Have you ever encountered these errors as a translator? Do you fix them? Do you think translators should fix them? Or leave them as original to the text?
Eugene: I wouldn't be so certain [a change in tense or time of day] is not the translator's/editor's fault. Japanese narrative prose tends to follow the same POV rules as English prose. Tense, however, is far more fluid, switching from "present" to "past" tense in the same paragraph.

In Japanese it's easy to confuse aspects of the perfect tense and participles in general with the present tense. As an oversimplified example, a participle phrase can be split off in the present tense, and followed by the rest in the past.
"Floating in the pool, I gazed up at the clouds."

"(I) float in the pool; gazed up at the clouds."
This use of the "historical present" is VERY common, and is independent of the "quality" of the writing. When translating, I will simply render everything in the past tense.

(I studiously avoid fiction written in the present tense and loath the trend of narrating historical documentaries in the present tense. If it happened in the past, put it in the past tense!)  
The Shore in Twilight
Kate: Are you ever tempted to the fix bigger issues, such as stories with no pay-offs or lack of character development? Or is your main focus on making the language work?
Eugene: As for actual mistakes in narrative structure, I tend to unconsciously knit everything together so it makes sense on the page. Though as noted previously, during the translation process, I can get so close to the text that I completely miss these types of mistakes.

I avoid thinking much about bigger issues. It being completely out of my purview, to start with, and not having the time in any case.
I don't think it's the translator's job to make those kinds of editorial decisions, so if I don't have an editor to bounce things off of, I don't.
Dreaming of Paradise
Kate: C.S. Lewis stated in his autobiography that he knew he had begun to master Greek when he no longer translated the word into English first. The Greek word “boat” brought up the image boat, not the English word (followed by the image). But translation involves doing exactly this—thinking of the word rather than the image. In fact, translation appears to involve multiple skill-sets from understanding to writing to rearranging words at the sentence level—do you feel yourself switching “hats” as you translate?
Eugene: There's the meaning part and the wordsmithing path. Like good acting, good writing shouldn't normally call attention to itself. The right words pull the right meaning out of our experiential memory banks. The better the word, the better it does that (without us noticing).

One problem comes when the words access the wrong thing.

A good example (from the Nibleys) is "Aegis" as the name of a ship vs. "Aegis" as a class of guided missile cruisers (referring to the combat system). And translating Fuyumi Ono, I have to keep the Chinese references distinct from the Japanese references.

At times, the only thing in a particular memory bank location is wrong. Or is blank. The etymology only goes so far, so I have to find something to fill it. The Internet makes that much easier. I can Google Image a Chinese word and realize, "Oh, that's what she means."

There's is also the problem of the words themselves gumming up the works—to continue with the above metaphor, acting that calls so much attention to itself that it distracts from the story. The challenge is to find the right word that doesn't trip over its own two feet.

If you're John Lasseter, then you hire Neil Gaiman to rewrite the script for Princess Mononoke. That's not usually in the budget. There's more leeway with subtitles because the visuals and voice acting can cover much of the "wordsmithing" chores for you.

With prose, if the story starts to sag for any reason, the tattered edges of the words will start to show.
Coming Next: WINDING UP with "Words Words Words"

Interview with a Translator, Part 2: Psychology and Japanese Fiction

Kate: Light novels seem to always have a psychological component, discussions of why people behave the way they do. Would you say that capturing inner beliefs is difficult in all writing, easier in Japanese, more difficult . . . ?
Eugene: It's probably easier in Japanese, as the writer is less likely to get bogged down in a morass of first-person pronouns. Japanese literature created the genre known as the "I-novel," and many works of poetry going back to the Heian period are intense first-person explorations of the psyche.

Anime series from Kanon to Madoka Magica can easily be interpreted as journeys through the mind of the protagonist, and Kokoro Connect makes this explicit. The entire last third of Natsume Soseki's Kokoro has "Sensei" explaining at length to the narrator why he is the way he is.

At the end of the day, when it comes to talking about yourself, it's the skill of the writer that makes the biggest difference.
Kate: People are people and relationships are difficult. In the romance light novels as in the American paperbacks I read, the difficulties rest on miscommunication, misunderstanding, and misreading. The ultimate desired outcome is closeness.

So far, so good: people are people. However, one difference seems to be that in Japanese light novels, the closeness is achieved by figuring out exactly how much power to give up while in American paperbacks, closeness is achieved by dismissing or supposedly rising above issues of power. Consequently, Japanese light novels seem closer to Jane Austen/nineteenth century literature with the ongoing negotiation of hierarchy, power, and money. Would you say this is a fair assessment of Japanese literature and society?
Popular series Emma by Kaoru Mori
tackles servant and master relations
in Victorian England.
Eugene: Yes, very much so. The Faulkner quote, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past," is a good way to approach Japanese sociology. The feudal Edo period only ended in 1868 and it didn't really end until 1945 (if even then).

Feudalism arises out of the common denominators of human interaction. There will never be a "classless" society, so the gravity of feudalism will always exert a force. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away.

No, romantic love doesn't overcome it either. As C.S. Lewis has written at length, it is more likely to royally screw everything up. Candid discussions of power, money, and sex will prove more productive in the long run.
Kate: Regarding psychological trends, are the Japanese more nature or nurture oriented? Some American readers complain/point out that light novels are still (in the 21st century) filled with Freudian (“nurture-centered”) arguments. Is Freud popular in Japanese culture?
A trope in shojo and yaoi manga/
light novels is when one character
discovers how hard another works.
Eugene: Japan actually came up with its own sort-of-Freudian theory, that was energized by the Nihonjinron movement, which naturally proclaimed it uniquely Japanese. It was popularized in The Anatomy of Dependence by Japanese psychoanalyst Takeo Doi, published in 1971.
"Amae is the nominal form of the verb amaeru, which Doi uses to describe the behavior of a person attempting to induce an authority figure, such as a parent, spouse, teacher, or supervisor, to take care of him. The behavior of children towards their parents is perhaps the most common example of amae, but Doi argued that child-rearing practices in the Western world seek to stop this kind of dependence, whereas in Japan it persists into adulthood in all kinds of social relationships."
Amae is seen as arising out of "Japaneseness" rather than genes. Japanese are nurture oriented. Although "IQ" is mentioned all the time--brilliant detectives always have high IQs and attended institutions like Harvard and Cambridge--what matters for everybody else is the ganbaru variable.

A movie like Stand and Deliver belongs to its own genre in Japanese entertainment, epitomized by television series like Dragon Zakura. Almost the entire emphasis is on EFFORT. Shoulder to the wheel and nose to the grindstone, that's what success is made of.
Japanese can be VERY introspective. As my Japanese theory of everything goes, the mysteriousness of Japan is often simply the result of it being a country of introverts who rarely see the need to spill all their mental anguish to a shrink. The stigma of mental illness is pervasive.

That's what books with thinly-veiled fictional protagonists are for.

Again, we get back to the "ganbaru" mentality. People have problems because they're not trying hard enough not to have them.
From Culture Map by Erin Meyer
Kate: Some sociologists argue that Asians see things/people in terms of their relationship to their surroundings while westerners see the person as emphatically an individual. So a portrait of an Asian by an Asian would place that person in context while a portrait of an American by an American would focus on the face.

Almost all light novels I've encountered are heavy on dialog but also go out of their way to provide setting details--where exactly things are spatially in an apartment or business, city or country. Is this specifically Japanese (people/things in context) or a product of the light novel genre?
Eugene: It's a Japanese thing (granted, my sample size here is two).

Japanese television has the usual travel shows about adventurers venturing off the exotic locations along with the more sedate Rick Steves-style tourist guides. But there are a whole lot of shows that focus exclusively on Japan, including the relatively mundane.

NHK has a series on one or two-day mountain hikes (not climbing, hiking to the top of a hikeable mountain). And there are a ton of series about accessible railway travel from point A to point B, with hardly a tourist trap in site.
Fans flocking to an area reminds me of
pilgrimages by young women to visit
"J. Dawson's" grave when Titanic came
out. No, Leonardo DiCaprio's character
wasn't based on him--the real J. Dawson
was a crew-member.

Granted, with 2000 years of recorded history, you can go anywhere in Japan and find something interesting to say about practically anything.

A show called Bura Tamori has a guy named Tamori (famous for hosting a pop music show a la Dick Clark), who walks around a city in Japan with a local historian and cartographer in tow and talks how the city grew to be the way it is. (I find stuff like that fascinating.)

 Asadora are always linked to a specific geographical settings. A five-minute addendum is appended to the end of every Taiga historical drama episode that explores the episode's past and present-day setting, how to get there and what to see.

 Then there's the "holy sites" phenomenon:
"When an anime is set in a certain locale, or even if background scenery strongly resembles a certain locale, that anime's fans will flock to the area to see the sights for themselves and buy local merchandise."
Kate: When you are writing/translating, does geography pose a problem? Do you rely on maps? You've lived in Japan—but of course, construction and new projects do change landscapes. How reliable is Google Maps? Did you go by memory or web images to write Serpent of Time and Fox and Wolf?
Mount Koya: a important location in Serpent of Time.
Eugene: Geography is a big challenge and Google Maps is a massively useful tool. When I was writing Serpent of Time, Google Maps let me drive the same road that Ishibashi-san takes from Kii Kamiya to Kudoyama. I had visited the area in person, but hadn't taken that particular route.

I also made use of Meiji Era maps of Osaka and Wakayama published online by the East Asia Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

In Fox & Wolf, Google Maps let me I drive from Hiraoka shrine to Mt. Ikoma and then to the Ikoma Skyland Amusement Park. And when I was translating Demon City Shinjuku, Google Maps and Google Images helped to clear away the confusion on several occasions.
COMING NEXT: The Act of Translation

Interview with a Translator, Part 2: Translating Story

Kate: As discussed in the prior interview, you have translated a number of the Twelve Kingdom novels. Wikipedia lists 8 novels; you have translated 6. What about the other two? Are they related to the six? Would you translate them if you could?
Eugene: I haven't translated Masho no Ko ("The Demon Child") and Kaze no Umi, Meikyu no Kishi ("A Sea of Wind, Shores of the Labyrinth").

Fuyumi Ono wrote "The Demon Child" before she started the Twelve Kingdoms series and fit the crossover material from the later novels around it, especially in "The Shore in Twilight" and "A Sea of Wind."

All of the above feature Taiki, and were touched upon in the NHK anime series. The hope and expectation is that Ono will finally conclude the Taiki arc in her upcoming novel. I'm sort of waiting on that too.

I'm currently slowly at work on Hisho no Tori ("Hisho's Birds"), a second short story collection.
Kate: What attracted you to the Twelve Kingdoms series?
Eugene: In the late 1990s, I discovered JWPce and online tools like Eijirou. And Honto. Unlike Amazon, Honto offers SAL shipping, which makes ordering books much more affordable. Then Windows 2000 and Window XP debuted with full Unicode support.

I used to peruse the manga section at bookstores to try and pick out titles and authors that I might want to read in Japanese. I started translating manga just for the heck of it and a couple of light novels. A girl at work asked me to do a chapter of Fruits Basket for a scanlation site she contributed to.

And then I saw the NHK anime series, and that turned out to be a deep well to draw from. (At the time, the books hadn't been licensed.) It certainly helped that the books turned out to be even better than the anime.

The entire Microsoft customer support team I was working on was getting transferred to India, so we were getting paid to sit around for hours without anything to do. So that's when I started emailing myself scans of the novels to give myself something to do at work.

And since I was translating them already, and was teaching myself HTML and website hosting, I decided to post them online. And I actually got feedback on the material I was posted. So I kept on going.
Kate: The Wings of Dreams can definitely be critiqued as a hero's journey a la Joseph Campbell. Does awareness of universal tropes help when translating or hinder? That is, can recognition of a familiar trope help the translator or will it prevent the translator from seeing the individual story?
Eugene: Creating expectations for yourself can cause big problems when you anticipate the story going one way and it goes another. This is especially true if you've encountered the story before out of the original "creative order."

The NHK Twelve Kingdoms anime series, for example, invented at least one character out of whole cloth, and borrowed characters and mixed in plot elements from different novels in order to condense the entire series into a single storyline.

So you've got to forget about what you think about the story, take off the critical analysis hat, and rely on the text to guide you through.

Most of the time, you're down there at the sentence level, a rat navigating a maze with little time for the big picture view. It's sort of a postmodern thing--all that exists is the text. You're encountering the story the way the reader will, though at a much slower pace.
Kate: How does Fuyumi Ono's storytelling/tone compare to other authors, Asian and Western?
Eugene: She compares well, proof that good writing is universal. I'd place Fuyumi Ono among the high fantasy greats. World building par excellence. That's medieval Asian world building, not medieval European world building. (She also does contemporary horror.)

She approaches her prose a bit like a fusty 19th century historian, with the occasional old spelling and not dumbing anything down. But the narrative is always leavened by her wry political and social commentary. She is an astute observer of the human condition and the political animal.

One political theme that runs through the Twelve Kingdoms is a critique of legalism and how the paternalistic state succumbs to totalitarianism.

Her dialog, however, is reasonably contemporary and accessible without being so glib that it quickly becomes dated. Over all, she has a straightforward writing style, a disciplined POV, and no more grammatical complexity than necessary.

Though, again, one tough aspect about high fantasy or SF technobabble is coming up with translations for words that don't really exist in the source language either, or were adapted from yet another language (Chinese) to start with.
Kate: Although there are elements of story that are universal, some elements seem more translatable than others. Frozen was hugely popular in Japan. Harry Potter apparently made its way across the ocean. What are some popular Hollywood tales that didn't make it to Japan? What about the other way around (the tales that don't make it here because they are too culturally embedded)?
Eugene: Unlike the ubiquitous action movie (from the shoot-'em-up to the space opera), conventional Hollywood comedies don't do well in Japan. They do better when combined with an accessible genre, like romantic comedy or musical comedy.

One consistent observation from long-time western observers is that Japanese don't do the whole "dripping with irony" thing, what with the winks and the nods and the sarcasm. The "American joke" (that's the actual term) is sand in the gears of a culture that depends so much on hints and assumptions.

The usual Hollywood blockbuster films show up in Japan, but also a surprising number of relatively obscure art house human dramas from around the world.

Similarly, Natsume Soseki [writer of realistic fiction circa 1900] can be an easier read than Fuyumi Ono [the Twelve Kingdoms], not because of the language but because of the difficulty of translating a high fantasy culture based on medieval China. The angsty characters in Kokoro from a century ago, for example, remain surprisingly accessible.

To turn Tolstoy's adage upside down, unhappy people are pretty much the same the world around.

A Harry Potter or Frozen will still zoom to the top of the charts, but home-grown films hold most of the top-twenty spots. The irony is, they often do so by fitting into Japanese culture in ways that Hollywood films can't, by exploiting currents and trends that are literally foreign outside Japan.

So while "accessible" family films and more conventional copies of Hollywood actioners from Japan get crowded out by behemoths like Disney (to the extent that most are never released in the U.S.), anime and manga have thrived by being not-Disney, by finding a media niche all to themselves not easily duplicated.

The evolutionary spiral that results has been termed "Galapagos syndrome," referring to products so customized to Japan's isolated island culture that they are incompatible with the rest of the world.

Dante's journey can be enjoyed for the
journey--his contemporaries would have
"got" all the snarkiness, without footnotes.
The recently released Rurouni Kenshin trilogy follows the Hollywood action flick playbook, with slick production values and lots of action paired with a dumbed-down script stocked with cardboard characters (played by actors better than their parts) and head-scratching plotting (that fizzles out in part 3).

And yet the Rurouni Kenshin series [containing Shinsengumi characters] assumes at least a cursory understanding of the Bakumatsu era (during which the various sides negotiated by day and assassinated each other by night), the Boshin War, and the early Meiji leading up to the Satsuma Rebellion.

 Even a Japanese kid who slept through every history class in school will have absorbed the rough details along the way. Western audiences would have a much harder time figuring out what the heck is going on.

By contrast, Memoirs of a Geisha didn't do anything that Japanese period melodramas don't do on a regular basis, and without any popular Japanese actresses in the leads. What was exotic to western audiences was ho-hum in Japan.

Consider an equally dumb Jason Statham actioner like The Mechanic: Resurrection or the much better John Wick with Keanu Reeves. Both movies present bankable stars in stories denatured of cultural specificity, hitting plot points instantly recognizable to anyone anywhere in the world.

That's why Hollywood prefers to make Hollywood versions of foreign films, going way back to Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai, with bigger budgets and wider audiences in mind. It looks like they might get the formula right with Ghost in the Shell too.
Kate: One cultural aspect of light novels and much manga are authors' afterwords. Many Western tomes have afterwords and/or "book questions"; the Japanese literary afterwords, however, are cute little "Howdy, I'm the author--I enjoyed working on this novel--let me tell you about what I did today" blurbs. Does the translator handle these? Or are they added in later/translated by someone else?
Eugene: In most cases, I translate everything (aside from the copyright pages and advertising inserts), including those personal notes from the author. Though they can be a pain, what with the inside jokes and the off-off-offhand style that can be like trying to translate half of an overheard conversation.

Makoto Shinkai
They can also be awfully self-deprecating, and that doesn't translate very well. But it's a Japanese thing. It's hard to imagine an Hollywood director saying about his own blockbuster film, as has Makoto Shinkai, that he wasn't entirely happy with all of it and some parts could be improved.

Oh, and maybe everybody should stop making such a big deal about it.

Though I wish that had occurred to George Lucas.
Kate: I have also noticed the self-depreciation! Sometimes, the authors will even admit to health problems, a failure to meet deadlines, personal crises, etc.—the type of stuff that often shows up on American authors' blogs but rarely on their book jackets. What accounts for this incredible willingness to "bare all"? Aren't Americans supposed to be the ones who "let it all hang out"?
Eugene: I fall back on my go-to explanation that introverts living in an introverted culture don't necessarily mind being extroverted about their introversion when they can do so without leaving the house.

An author and media star like Naoki Matayoshi started out doing stand-up (manzai) comedy, yet in public he still maintains a quite reticent demeanor. Being loudmouthed and opinionated is Hikari Ota's fairly unique shtick, and he's also half of a manzai duo.

If you're a Freudian, manzai is the public expression of the Japanese repressed id (I say almost seriously).

Shiro thought he was going to a non-political dinner
with his class of fellow apprentices. Nope, the
canny host ends by hitting them up for favors.
Shiro is thinking, "Dammit. The only way to get out of
this is to pay back the equivalent of tonight's bill."
These authors otherwise aren't going on Oprah and exposing their souls. They might not be J.D. Salinger, but aside from what they write, can be quite reclusive.

I think they have much in common with the original Star Trek convention circuit. The vast majority didn't get where they are [writing a bestseller] out of the block. They slowly built careers out of "1000 true fans," starting with doujinshi back in high school and college.

So there's a large measure of on and giri at work here, the ongoing cycle of favor and obligation that's been a tireless engine of Japanese social relations for two thousand years. An element of this reciprocation inevitably shows up on the inside covers of their books.
COMING NEXT: Light novels and psychology