An I-Novel by Minae MizumuraTranslated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

I heard about An I-Novel thanks to Rebecca Hussey’s Reading Indie email newsletter, in which Rebecca described this as “an autobiographical, autofictional novel that takes place in one day and is thinky, contemplative, and formally innovative” – which a) is a great description of this book and b) really made me want to read it. Though the novel is narrated over the course of a single day (in which the narrator doesn’t even leave her apartment building), it feels more expansive than that might imply. The book is very interior and introspective while also talking about a whole lot of memories and experiences in a way that feels very natural to the story but is clearly very well-constructed. Early in the book we learn that it’s twenty years to the day since the main character, Minae, came to the US with her sister Nanae and their mom (their dad was already there). That realization, along with the combination of snow falling outside and a sense of stasis and avoidance in her life in general, prompts Minae to reflect on her time in the US and the time she’s spent in Japan—both as a younger child before coming to the US and as a young adult going back to visit. Interspersed with the text are full-page black & white photos of scenes/places relevant to the story—Rockefeller Center at Christmas, say, or Great Neck High School on Long Island.

Minae doesn’t do much over the course of the day, but the book covers a lot of ground: she reflects on her experiences in junior high before she was fluent in English, and on her relationship with her sister, and on their family in general; she thinks about her experiences as a Japanese person in the US (“Where we lived, being Asian never caused us any particular difficulty, but neither could we ever forget that that’s what we were”) and remembers everything from summer camp to junior high art class to a day spent in Manhattan with Nanae in adulthood, having lunch and looking at art. She thinks about wanting to go back to Japan, and about not wanting to go back to Japan, and about realizing (after having long loved Japanese literature) that she wants to write in Japanese, rather than in English or in French (though she’s in grad school in the French department). There’s a lot about identity and memory and family history and family ties and language and loneliness, and I found it all to be a really compelling read.






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