Nick Bradley has created a beautiful story within a story in Four Seasons in Japan. Even though there is a wide contrast in both stories in terms of setting, locations, and timelines, there is no deviation in authenticity and warmth.
Flo, an American citizen, works in Tokyo as a translator. Despite having a job and having published a book, she feels discontented. Nothing seems to be going well for her at work. And her girlfriend’s decision to move to America signals the end of their relationship. Her friends Kyoko, Makoto, Ogawa-sensei, and Lily, her cat, are the only ones rooting for her. Despite their love and friendship, her dissatisfaction keeps on increasing. She feels lost.
Things start looking better when she finds a Japanese novel on a train. Her attempt to translate it into English brings her life back on track. However, everything is not as easy as it seems. The anonymous writer wishes to remain anonymous, and Flo cannot publish the book without his consent.
Flo translates the story of Kyo, a sensitive teenager and his stubborn grandmother Ayako, even though she doesn’t have the author’s permission. This story occurs mainly in Onomichi, a countryside town.
Bradley takes his readers to Japan and introduces them to the country’s history, customs, culture, cuisine, and traditions. It was a wonderful experience visualising the changing seasons.
His writing is highly visceral, and it is impossible to not feel the emotions of the characters. I loved knowing Flo, Kyo, and Ayako from such close quarters.
In the book, the author covers several themes, including mental health, parental control, generational differences, societal pressure on children, and suicide.. The friendship and community strength portrayed in Kyo’s story is heartwarming.
I didn’t enjoy Flo’s story as much as I enjoyed Kyo’s. I found it much easier to relate to Kyo rather than Flo, whose constant dissatisfaction was slightly nagging. Flo’s struggles feel forced at times.
In my opinion, the resolution could have been handled better. Ayako’s story ended abruptly, while the ending of Flo’s story was not as appealing as the story itself.
The best part about the book is the beautiful quotes. How I wish I could quote them all here! Since I can’t do that, highlighting the few I loved the most.
It’s not about getting to the end – about completion. That’s what I needed to learn. It’s about the journey, the process itself. The cycle of work and art is like the seasons, flowing from one to another, round and round, over and over.
That’s the thing about humans – we feel like we have to make our dreams real. And that’s what causes us such joy and discontent.
Four Seasons in Japan by Nick Bradley is a worthy and memorable read.
Wordsopedia Rating 4/5
|Title: Four Seasons in Japan
|Author: Nick Bradley
|Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Publishers
|Publication date: 22 Jun 2023
|No. of Pages: 336
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About the author
Nick Bradley holds a PhD from UEA focussing on the figure of the cat in Japanese literature. He lived in Japan for many years where he worked as a translator, and currently teaches on the Creative Writing master’s programme at the University of Cambridge. His debut novel, The Cat and The City, was published in 2020.
Four Seasons in Japan is his second, and was published in the UK on June 22nd 2023 by Doubleday. His work has been translated into fourteen languages.