The Weight of Secrets by Aki Shimazaki – Lovely

February 10, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Weight of Secrets by Aki Shimazaki (1999-2004) Original French title: Le poids des secrets.

Aki Shimazaki was born in 1961 in Japan. She emigrated to Canada in 1981, first living in Vancouver and Toronto before moving to Montreal in 1991. In 1995, she started to learn French and in 1999, she published her first novella. In French, her third language. I’m in awe.

The Weight of Secrets is her debut series and the original title is Le poids des secrets. It is a five-petal flower book. Each novella is a petal and the reader is like a little bee, going from one petal to the other, seeing part of the flower from a character’s point of view at different periods in time. After visiting the five petals, the reader has a global view of the history of two families who seem to live parallel lives but actually have open and hidden interconnections. It is the shared destinies of a woman, Yukiko and Yukio, born in Tokyo in the early 1930s and both living in Nagasaki in 1945 and survivors of the atomic bombing.

Each volume has a Japanese title, a name of flower or of an animal symbolic of this specific view on the story.

The first book is Tsubaki, (camélias/camellias), a flower symbolic of happy times for Yukio and Yukiko.

The second book is Hamaguri, a shellfish with a shell in two halves. It is a children’s game to have a bag of shells and try to find the exact other half to one shell. It is a symbol of a key person missing in the characters’ lives.

The third book is Tsubame (hirondelle/swallow). It is the nickname of a Catholic priest who plays a capital part in the story. He’s a swallow as he’s always dressed in a black-and-white cloth. In French we say that one swallow doesn’t bring back Spring but this man does, he brings life and hope after hard times.

The fourth book is Wasurenagusa (myosotis/forget-me-not). It belongs to Yukio’s father who was in Manchuria during WWII and separated from his family.

The fifth book is Hotaru (lucioles/fireflies), a way to symbolize dangerous attractions.

I’m aware that you still have no clue about the story. The truth is, I don’t want to give details about the characters. All you need to know is that it’s set in Japan, that it involves characters crushed by historical events like the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo and the subsequent massacre of Korean immigrants or the 1945 atomic bombing in Nagasaki. It is about racism against the Korean community and about the Japanese definition of what is proper or not. It tells the impact of customs on individual lives when they cannot meet society’s expectations. It’s the story of two beings who had a special bond, one they didn’t get to explore because their parents kept too many secrets and how they missed out. It’s the stories of two adults who healed each other and had a good life together, despite their own secrets and failures.

We go back and forth in time, we change of narrators and we unravel each character’s reasons to keep something or some part of themselves hidden. We only see people who do as best they can given the circumstances they are in. From one book to the other, we get a clearer picture of the characters’ lives and how some of the secrets get revealed to the next generation and how some die with the person. Each character has something they don’t know about their origins.

It’s written in a simple and lovely language and I wanted to know more after each volume. My favorite volumes were Tsubame and Wasurenagusa. I absolutely loved this series and I highly recommend it. If you pick it up, do not read the blurbs of the books, there are way too many spoilers in them and you want to keep the magic intact.

I don’t know if it’s a Japanese or a Canadian book. I’ve seen it in the Japanese section of my bookstore. I certainly thought it was Japanese until I wondered who was the translator, discovered there was none and started to research Aki Shimazaki. It’s difficult to qualify it. Its language is French but certainly not the French from Québec. Shimazaki’s native language probably left some marks in her way to think and write in French. It’s a Japanese book for its setting, its characters, its themes and its background culture. So, I don’t know, I’ll let you make your own mind about it but I feel privileged. I got to read a Japanese book in my native language.

Now the sad news and the ranting part. Sadly, it’s a Translation Tragedy. It’s published in Québec, it was a great success in the francophone world and it’s easy to read. And yet, it’s not available in English. Is there not an anglophone Canadian publisher to translate it into English? Like for Bonheur d’occasion by Gabrielle Roy, I really don’t understand how it’s possible that such books are not available in the country’s two official languages.

Good thing for readers who speak French, it’s a perfect way to practice reading in French. The books are short, the style is simple (short sentences, no very complicated words) and the story gripping.

  1. Marina Sofia
    February 10, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    I’ve heard of this author and have been meaning to get hold of the books in French. Much harder to do now here, of course, but it sounds like you really thought they are worth it.

    Like

    • February 10, 2019 at 11:35 pm

      I really had a great time reading this series. I liked her style, the stories. I got attached to the characters.

      I don’t understand why these books aren’t available in ebooks.

      Like

  2. February 10, 2019 at 6:55 pm

    Super !!!! 🙂

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    • February 10, 2019 at 11:35 pm

      Un très bon moment de lecture. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 11, 2019 at 10:06 am

        Le dernier volume de sa dernière pentalogie sort bientôt en France ….’L’ombre du chardon ‘

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        • February 12, 2019 at 10:02 pm

          J’ai bien envie d’en lire d’autres d’elles, je préfère attendre que la série complète soit sortie, c’est moins frustrant.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. February 10, 2019 at 10:57 pm

    Sounds intriguing… and how impressive that the author wrote in her 3rd language!

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    • February 10, 2019 at 11:37 pm

      I’m impressed that she wrote in French, it’s a difficult language to learn.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. February 10, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    This sounds so appealing, I’d love to read it. I need to improve my French or keep everything crossed for an English translation!

    Like

    • February 10, 2019 at 11:40 pm

      Like I said, I don’t understand why it’s not translated for Canadian readers.

      This series has everything to be a success: it’s gripping and it’s easy to read.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. February 11, 2019 at 12:13 am

    I’m not 100% sure, but I think this has been translated into Spanish. I’m hunting around to see where I can find the first one, to see if my French is good enough, and at the Book Depository I searched her name and came up with three titles in Spanish.
    It is really difficult to source books in French from here. Online searches don’t seem to understand that I *want* it in French…

    Like

    • February 12, 2019 at 9:59 pm

      This is a lot easier than George Sand, I think you’ll be fine.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. February 11, 2019 at 12:18 am

    I shouldn’t have despaired so soon! I’ve got one, secondhand from AbeBooks. $3USD plus $9USD for postage!

    Like

  7. February 11, 2019 at 6:26 pm

    You’ll be glad to know it’s translated into Hungarian! My knowledge of Japan-related literature is extremely limited but I just got The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. I mention this here partly because his short biography also mentions the 1923 earthquake that you also mention.

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    • February 12, 2019 at 10:06 pm

      I’m glad it’s been translated into Hungarian, English readers are clearly missing out.
      I’m not a big reader of Japanese lit either. I wasn’t aware of the killings of Korean immigrants in the wake of thr earthquake.

      Like

  8. February 12, 2019 at 8:53 pm

    This sounds like something I would love. I’m glad you wrote about this as I hadn’t heard of her before. Btw, it looks like it was translated into German but is out of print.

    Like

    • February 12, 2019 at 10:08 pm

      I think you’ll like it, I hope you’ll review it if you decide to read it.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. February 13, 2019 at 7:13 am

    It’s great you found a book you could be enthused about – it doesn’t happen as often as you’d wish, not to me anyway. Pared back writing is probably inevitable in your third language but it is also often a good thing in itself. Murakami I think works in English before transcribing back into Japanese just to obtain this effect.

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    • February 16, 2019 at 8:49 pm

      Yes, I couldn’t wait to start the upcoming tone.
      She has another series and the last book will be published this year. I’ll wait for it to be available in paperback and I’ll get the whole series in one purchase.

      I didn’t know that about Murakami. It’s very interesting.

      Like

  10. February 16, 2019 at 1:09 am

    Emma – I just happened to be heading to the library when I read your post and so took the opportunity to look for these books. My library had 3 of the 5 (why not all 5?), including the first, which I checked out. I did notice that there is an English translation of this first book, Tsubaki, and I was about to check that one out when I realized – even though it’s clear in your post – that the book had been written originally in French, and that I wasn’t in the Japanese literature section but in the Canadian literature section. So that’s the one I took.

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    • February 16, 2019 at 8:54 pm

      Glasskey who runs a bookstore in France said he could track down a translation of Tsubaki but it’s out of print. And the rest is not translated.

      I understand that your library has the 3 first ones in French. I also wonder why number 4 & 5 were not purchased to have a complete series.
      You’ll have no problems to read them in French, I’m sure.
      It’s a pity there’s no ebook version, it’d be a good way to sell it to readers who are not based in a Francophone country.

      Like

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