Diving Pool: Three Novellas

( 6 )

Overview

The first major English translation of one of contemporary Japan's bestselling and most celebrated authors

From Akutagawa Award-winning author Yoko Ogawa comes a haunting trio of novellas about love, fertility, obsession, and how even the most innocent gestures may contain a hairline crack of cruel intent.

A lonely teenage girl falls in love with her foster brother as she watches him leap from a high diving ...

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Overview

The first major English translation of one of contemporary Japan's bestselling and most celebrated authors

From Akutagawa Award-winning author Yoko Ogawa comes a haunting trio of novellas about love, fertility, obsession, and how even the most innocent gestures may contain a hairline crack of cruel intent.

A lonely teenage girl falls in love with her foster brother as she watches him leap from a high diving board into a pool—a peculiar infatuation that sends unexpected ripples through her life.

A young woman records the daily moods of her pregnant sister in a diary, taking meticulous note of a pregnancy that may or may not be a hallucination—but whose hallucination is it, hers or her sister's?

A woman nostalgically visits her old college dormitory on the outskirts of Tokyo, a boarding house run by a mysterious triple amputee with one leg.

Hauntingly spare, beautiful, and twisted, The Diving Pool is a disquieting and at times darkly humorous collection of novellas about normal people who suddenly discover their own dark possibilities.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Yoko Ogawa is able to give expression to the most subtle workings of human psychology in prose that is gentle yet penetrating."—Kenzaburo Oe, Nobel Prize-winning author of A Personal Matter

"Three beautifully-drawn and genuinely eerie stories. Each one builds an image that you can't quite shake out of your mind."—Aimee Bender, author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt

"What a strange and compelling little volume this is. Yoko Ogawa's fiction is like a subtle, psychoactive drug. Long after you read it, The Diving Pool will remain with you, shifting your vision, eroding your composure, raising questions about even the most seemingly conventional people you encounter. Her gift is to both reveal and preserve the mystery of human nature."—Kathryn Harrison, bestselling author of The Kiss

"Ogawa is original, elegant, very disturbing. I admire any writer who dares to work on this uneasy territory—we're on the edge of the unspeakable. The stories seem to penetrate right to the heart of the world and find it a cold and eerie place. There are no narrative tricks, but the stories generate a surprising amount of tension. You feel as if you’ve touched an icy hand."—Hilary Mantel, author of Beyond Black

Alison McCulloch
Still waters run dark in these bright yet eerie novellas, whose crisp, almost guileless prose hides unexpected menace…Stephen Snyder's elegant translations from the Japanese whet the appetite for more.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In this first book-length translation into English, Japanese author Ogawa's three polished tales demonstrate her knack for a crafty, suspenseful hook. Each is narrated in the listless, emotionally remote voice of a young woman, such as the high schooler of the title story whose infatuation with her foster brother, Jun, prompts her to obsessively observe his diving practice. As the daughter of religious parents who run an orphanage, Aya feels alienated from the workings of the so-called Light House and finds an outlet for her frustration in romantic fantasy about Jun as well as in tormenting-shockingly-an orphan baby. The underhandedly creepy "Dormitory" is narrated by a Tokyo wife who begins nursing the ailing, armless one-legged manager at her old college dormitory. The manager's increasingly alarming tale of love for one of the renters, now vanished, enthralls the wife. "Pregnancy Diary" offers a bit of levity, narrated by a young unmarried woman whose rage toward her pregnant sister take the form of cooking her grapefruit jam prepared from fruit treated with a chromosome-altering chemical. Ogawa's tales possess a gnawing, erotic edge. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312426835
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 1/22/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 642,850
  • Lexile: 910L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Yoko Ogawa's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, and Zoetrope. Since 1988 she has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, and has won every major Japanese literary award.

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Read an Excerpt

THE DIVING POOL

It’s always warm here: I feel as though I’ve been swallowed by a huge animal. After a few minutes, my hair, my eyelashes, even the blouse of my school uniform are damp from the heat and humidity, and I’m bathed in a moist film that smells vaguely of chlorine.

Far below my feet, gentle ripples disrupt the pale blue surface of the water. A constant stream of tiny bubbles rises from the diving well; I can’t see the bottom. The ceiling is made of glass and is very high. I sit here, halfway up the bleachers, as if suspended in midair.

Jun is walking out on the ten-meter board. He’s wearing the rust-colored swimsuit I saw yesterday on the drying rack outside the window of his room. When he reaches the end of the board, he turns slowly; then, facing away from the water, he aligns his heels. Every muscle in his body is tensed, as if he were holding his breath. The line of muscle from his ankle to his thigh has the cold elegance of a bronze statue.

Sometimes I wish I could describe how wonderful I feel in those few seconds from the time he spreads his arms above his head, as if trying to grab hold of something, to the instant he vanishes into the water. But I can never find the right words. Perhaps it’s because he’s falling through time, to a place where words can never reach.

“Inward two-and-a-half in the tuck position,” I murmur.

He misses the dive. His chest hits the water with a smack and sends up a great spray of white.

But I enjoy it just the same, whether he misses a dive or hits it perfectly with no splash. So I never sit here hoping for a good dive, and I am never disappointed by a bad one. Jun’s graceful body cuts through these childish emotions to reach the deepest place inside me.

He reappears out of the foam, the rippling surface of the water gathering up like a veil around his shoulders; and he swims slowly toward the side of the pool.

I’ve seen pictures from underwater cameras. The frame is completely filled with deep blue water, and then the diver shoots down, only to turn at the bottom and kick off back toward the surface. This underwater pivot is even more beautiful than the dive itself: the ankles and hands slice through the water majestically, and the body is completely enclosed in the purity of the pool. When the women dive, their hair flutters underwater as though lifted in a breeze, and they all look so peaceful, like children doing deep-breathing exercises.

One after the other, the divers come slipping into the water, making their graceful arcs in front of the camera. I would like them to move more slowly, to stay longer, but after a few seconds their heads appear again above the surface.

Does Jun let his body float free at the bottom of the pool, like a fetus in its mother’s womb? How I’d love to watch him to my heart’s content as he drifts there, utterly free.

I spend a lot of time on the bleachers at the edge of the diving pool. I was here yesterday and the day before, and three months ago as well. I’m not thinking about anything or waiting for something; in fact, I don’t seem to have any reason to be here at all. I just sit and look at Jun’s wet body.

We’ve lived under the same roof for more than ten years, and we go to the same high school, so we see each other and talk any number of times every day. But it’s when we’re at the pool that I feel closest to Jun—when he’s diving, his body nearly defenseless in only a swimsuit, twisting itself into the laid-out position, the pike, the tuck. Dressed in my neatly ironed skirt and freshly laundered blouse, I take my place in the stands and set my schoolbag at my feet. I couldn’t reach him from here even if I tried.

Yet this is a special place, my personal watchtower. I alone can see him, and he comes straight to me.

I pass the shops near the station and turn from the main road onto the first narrow street heading south, along the tracks. The noise and bustle die away. It’s May now, and even when I reach the station after Jun’s practice, the warmth of the day lingers in the air.

After I pass the park—little more than a sandbox and a water fountain—the company dormitory, and the deserted maternity clinic, there’s nothing to see but rows of houses. It takes more than twenty-five minutes to walk home, and along the way the knot of people who left the station with me unravels and fades away with the sunlight. By the end, I’m usually alone.

A low hedge runs along the side of the road. It eventually gives way to trees, and then the cinder-block wall, half covered with ivy, comes into view. In the places where the ivy doesn’t grow, the wall has turned moss green, as if the blocks themselves were living things. Then the gate, standing wide open, held back by a rusted chain that seems to prevent it from ever being closed.

In fact, I have never seen it closed. It’s always open, ready to welcome anyone who comes seeking God in a moment of trouble or pain. No one is ever turned away, not even me.

Next to the gate is a glass-covered notice board with a neon light, and on it is posted the Thought for the Week: WHO IS MORE PRECIOUS? YOU OR YOUR BROTHER? WE ARE ALL CHILDREN OF GOD, AND YOU MUST NEVER TREAT YOUR BROTHER AS A STRANGER. Every Saturday afternoon, my father spends a long time looking through the Bible before carefully grinding ink on his stone and writing out this Thought. The smell of the ink permeates the old box where he keeps his brushes and grinding stone. He pours a few drops from the tiny water pot into the well of the stone, and then, holding the ink stick very straight, he grinds the stick into a dark liquid. Only when he finishes this long process does he finally dip his brush. Each gesture is done slowly, almost maddeningly so, as if he were performing a solemn ritual, and I am always careful to creep quietly past his door to avoid disturbing him.

Attracted to the neon light, countless tiny insects crawl on the notice board among my father’s perfectly formed characters. At some point, evening has turned to night. The darkness inside the gate seems even thicker than outside, perhaps due to the dense foliage that grows within. Trees are planted at random along the wall, their branches tangled and overgrown. The front yard is covered in a thick jumble of weeds and flowers.

In this sea of green, two massive ginkgo trees stand out against the night sky. Every autumn, the children put on work gloves to gather the nuts. As the oldest, Jun climbs up on one of the thick branches and shakes the tree, and then the younger children run around frantically amid the hail of nuts and dried yellow leaves. Passing near the trees always makes me think of the soft skins surrounding the nuts, squashed like caterpillars on the soles of the children’s shoes, and of the horrible odor they spread through the house.

To the left of the ginkgo trees is the church, and at an angle beyond, connected by a covered corridor, the building we call the Light House. This is my home.

The pale blue moisture I absorbed in the stands at the pool has evaporated by the time I reach here; my body is dry and hollow. And it is always the same: I can never simply come home the way other girls do. I find myself reading the Thought for the Week, passing through the gate, entering the Light House—and something always stops me, something always seems out of place.

Sometimes, as I approach, the Light House appears fixed and acute, while I, by contrast, feel vague and dim. At other times, I feel almost painfully clear and sharp, while the Light House is hazy. Either way, there is always something irreconcilable between the house and me, something I can never get past.

This was my home. My family was here. Jun, too. I remind myself of these facts each time I surrender to the curtain of green and open the door of the Light House.

When I try to put my memories in some kind of order, I realize that the earliest ones are the clearest and most indelible.

It was a brilliant morning in early summer. Jun and I were playing by the old well in the backyard. The well had been filled in long before and a fig tree planted over it. We must have been four or five years old, so it was soon after Jun had come to live at the Light House. His mother had been a chronic alcoholic, and he had been born out of wedlock, so one of our loyal parishioners had brought him to us.

I had broken off a branch from the fig tree and was watching the opalescent liquid ooze from the wound. When I touched it, the sticky emission clung to my finger. I broke another branch.

“Time for milky!” I said to Jun.

I made him sit on my lap, and I wrapped an arm around his shoulders as I brought the branch to his lips. Nothing about Jun’s body then hinted at the muscular form later shining in the transparent water of the pool. My arms remember only the softness of an ordinary small child. Like a baby at the breast, he pursed his lips and made little chirping sounds, even wrapping his hands around mine as if he were clutching a bottle. The milk of the fig had a bitter, earthy smell.

I felt myself suddenly overcome by a strange and horrible sensation. It might have been the fig milk or the softness of Jun’s body bringing it on, but that seemed to be the beginning—though I suppose it’s possible this terrible feeling took hold of me even earlier, before I was even born.

I broke a thicker branch with more milk and smeared it against his mouth. He knit his brow and licked his lips, and at that moment the sunlight becomes intensely bright, the scene blurs to white, and my oldest memory comes to an end.

Since that time, I’ve had many similar moments, and I can never hear the words “family” and “home” without feeling that they sound strange, never simply hear them and let them go. When I stop to examine them, though, the words seem hollow, seem to rattle at my feet like empty cans.

Excerpted from The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa.

Copyright © 1991 by Yoko Ogawa.

Published in 1991 by Picador.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Table of Contents

The Diving Pool1

Pregnancy Diary

55

Dormitory107

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First Chapter

The Diving Pool

Three Novellas
By Yoko Ogawa

Picador

Copyright © 2008 Yoko Ogawa
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312426835

THE DIVING POOL
It’s always warm here: I feel as though I’ve been swallowed by a huge animal. After a few minutes, my hair, my eyelashes, even the blouse of my school uniform are damp from the heat and humidity, and I’m bathed in a moist film that smells vaguely of chlorine.
Far below my feet, gentle ripples disrupt the pale blue surface of the water. A constant stream of tiny bubbles rises from the diving well; I can’t see the bottom. The ceiling is made of glass and is very high. I sit here, halfway up the bleachers, as if suspended in midair.
Jun is walking out on the ten-meter board. He’s wearing the rust-colored swimsuit I saw yesterday on the drying rack outside the window of his room. When he reaches the end of the board, he turns slowly; then, facing away from the water, he aligns his heels. Every muscle in his body is tensed, as if he were holding his breath. The line of muscle from his ankle to his thigh has the cold elegance of a bronze statue.
Sometimes I wish I could describe how wonderful I feel in those few seconds from the time he spreads his arms above his head, as if trying to grab hold of something, to the instant he vanishes into the water. But I can never find the right words. Perhaps it’s because he’s falling through time, to a place where words can never reach.
“Inward two-and-a-half in the tuck position,” I murmur.
He misses the dive. His chest hits the water with a smack and sends up a great spray of white.
But I enjoy it just the same, whether he misses a dive or hits it perfectly with no splash. So I never sit here hoping for a good dive, and I am never disappointed by a bad one. Jun’s graceful body cuts through these childish emotions to reach the deepest place inside me.
He reappears out of the foam, the rippling surface of the water gathering up like a veil around his shoulders; and he swims slowly toward the side of the pool.
I’ve seen pictures from underwater cameras. The frame is completely filled with deep blue water, and then the diver shoots down, only to turn at the bottom and kick off back toward the surface. This underwater pivot is even more beautiful than the dive itself: the ankles and hands slice through the water majestically, and the body is completely enclosed in the purity of the pool. When the women dive, their hair flutters underwater as though lifted in a breeze, and they all look so peaceful, like children doing deep-breathing exercises.
One after the other, the divers come slipping into the water, making their graceful arcs in front of the camera. I would like them to move more slowly, to stay longer, but after a few seconds their heads appear again above the surface.
Does Jun let his body float free at the bottom of the pool, like a fetus in its mother’s womb? How I’d love to watch him to my heart’s content as he drifts there, utterly free.
I spend a lot of time on the bleachers at the edge of the diving pool. I was here yesterday and the day before, and three months ago as well. I’m not thinking about anything or waiting for something; in fact, I don’t seem to have any reason to be here at all. I just sit and look at Jun’s wet body.
We’ve lived under the same roof for more than ten years, and we go to the same high school, so we see each other and talk any number of times every day. But it’s when we’re at the pool that I feel closest to Jun—when he’s diving, his body nearly defenseless in only a swimsuit, twisting itself into the laid-out position, the pike, the tuck. Dressed in my neatly ironed skirt and freshly laundered blouse, I take my place in the stands and set my schoolbag at my feet. I couldn’t reach him from here even if I tried.
Yet this is a special place, my personal watchtower. I alone can see him, and he comes straight to me.
I pass the shops near the station and turn from the main road onto the first narrow street heading south, along the tracks. The noise and bustle die away. It’s May now, and even when I reach the station after Jun’s practice, the warmth of the day lingers in the air.
After I pass the park—little more than a sandbox and a water fountain—the company dormitory, and the deserted maternity clinic, there’s nothing to see but rows of houses. It takes more than twenty-five minutes to walk home, and along the way the knot of people who left the station with me unravels and fades away with the sunlight. By the end, I’m usually alone.
A low hedge runs along the side of the road. It eventually gives way to trees, and then the cinder-block wall, half covered with ivy, comes into view. In the places where the ivy doesn’t grow, the wall has turned moss green, as if the blocks themselves were living things. Then the gate, standing wide open, held back by a rusted chain that seems to prevent it from ever being closed.
In fact, I have never seen it closed. It’s always open, ready to welcome anyone who comes seeking God in a moment of trouble or pain. No one is ever turned away, not even me.
Next to the gate is a glass-covered notice board with a neon light, and on it is posted the Thought for the Week: WHO IS MORE PRECIOUS? YOU OR YOUR BROTHER? WE ARE ALL CHILDREN OF GOD, AND YOU MUST NEVER TREAT YOUR BROTHER AS A STRANGER. Every Saturday afternoon, my father spends a long time looking through the Bible before carefully grinding ink on his stone and writing out this Thought. The smell of the ink permeates the old box where he keeps his brushes and grinding stone. He pours a few drops from the tiny water pot into the well of the stone, and then, holding the ink stick very straight, he grinds the stick into a dark liquid. Only when he finishes this long process does he finally dip his brush. Each gesture is done slowly, almost maddeningly so, as if he were performing a solemn ritual, and I am always careful to creep quietly past his door to avoid disturbing him.
Attracted to the neon light, countless tiny insects crawl on the notice board among my father’s perfectly formed characters. At some point, evening has turned to night. The darkness inside the gate seems even thicker than outside, perhaps due to the dense foliage that grows within. Trees are planted at random along the wall, their branches tangled and overgrown. The front yard is covered in a thick jumble of weeds and flowers.
In this sea of green, two massive ginkgo trees stand out against the night sky. Every autumn, the children put on work gloves to gather the nuts. As the oldest, Jun climbs up on one of the thick branches and shakes the tree, and then the younger children run around frantically amid the hail of nuts and dried yellow leaves. Passing near the trees always makes me think of the soft skins surrounding the nuts, squashed like caterpillars on the soles of the children’s shoes, and of the horrible odor they spread through the house.
To the left of the ginkgo trees is the church, and at an angle beyond, connected by a covered corridor, the building we call the Light House. This is my home.
The pale blue moisture I absorbed in the stands at the pool has evaporated by the time I reach here; my body is dry and hollow. And it is always the same: I can never simply come home the way other girls do. I find myself reading the Thought for the Week, passing through the gate, entering the Light House—and something always stops me, something always seems out of place.
Sometimes, as I approach, the Light House appears fixed and acute, while I, by contrast, feel vague and dim. At other times, I feel almost painfully clear and sharp, while the Light House is hazy. Either way, there is always something irreconcilable between the house and me, something I can never get past.
This was my home. My family was here. Jun, too. I remind myself of these facts each time I surrender to the curtain of green and open the door of the Light House.
When I try to put my memories in some kind of order, I realize that the earliest ones are the clearest and most indelible.
It was a brilliant morning in early summer. Jun and I were playing by the old well in the backyard. The well had been filled in long before and a fig tree planted over it. We must have been four or five years old, so it was soon after Jun had come to live at the Light House. His mother had been a chronic alcoholic, and he had been born out of wedlock, so one of our loyal parishioners had brought him to us.
I had broken off a branch from the fig tree and was watching the opalescent liquid ooze from the wound. When I touched it, the sticky emission clung to my finger. I broke another branch.
“Time for milky!” I said to Jun.
I made him sit on my lap, and I wrapped an arm around his shoulders as I brought the branch to his lips. Nothing about Jun’s body then hinted at the muscular form later shining in the transparent water of the pool. My arms remember only the softness of an ordinary small child. Like a baby at the breast, he pursed his lips and made little chirping sounds, even wrapping his hands around mine as if he were clutching a bottle. The milk of the fig had a bitter, earthy smell.
I felt myself suddenly overcome by a strange and horrible sensation. It might have been the fig milk or the softness of Jun’s body bringing it on, but that seemed to be the beginning—though I suppose it’s possible this terrible feeling took hold of me even earlier, before I was even born.
I broke a thicker branch with more milk and smeared it against his mouth. He knit his brow and licked his lips, and at that moment the sunlight becomes intensely bright, the scene blurs to white, and my oldest memory comes to an end.
Since that time, I’ve had many similar moments, and I can never hear the words “family” and “home” without feeling that they sound strange, never simply hear them and let them go. When I stop to examine them, though, the words seem hollow, seem to rattle at my feet like empty cans.
Excerpted from The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa.
Copyright © 1991 by Yoko Ogawa.
Published in 1991 by Picador.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.


Continues...

Excerpted from The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa Copyright © 2008 by Yoko Ogawa. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about The Diving Pool are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach The Diving Pool.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2013

    AP World History Review: Delightful read, but slightly unsatisfy

    AP World History Review: Delightful read, but slightly unsatisfying.
    When reading the book, I was extremely excited to get an insight into the Japanese mind and Japanese literary style that I typically don't get a chance to read. I was very intrigued throughout all of the novellas and greatly anticipated the events one after another. I loved the darker insights of human psychology that motivated the characters. However, I found myself slightly confused in some parts that never seemed to be answered and was often left unsatisfied by the end of the novellas. Although it does leave the reader a chance to imagine what would have have happened next, I was left still hungry for something more than the way each one ended. They were unsatisfying, but still well written. The author's purpose was well executed in (what I imagine to be) and insight into the minds of darker personalities of everyday people in everyday lives. Yoko Ogawa beautifully and successfully crafts three great novellas that present considered "normal" lives and shows how "un-normal" these typical people can really be. 
    Being that I've never gotten a chance to read true Japanese novel literature, I was highly impressed with how the stories played out and what became of the ends. Each novella was gorgeously written that leaves the reader hanging and greedy for more. It's a true page turner and you'll be over with the book before you know it. I was very pleased with how each individual story progressed up until the end. From then on -although it was written quite well- I was left feeling a little bit hanging; as though there should be something more that I'm not catching. Although it was frustrating at times, it really tied in well with the eeriness and complexity of each individual story in leaving the reader unsure of what the true motivation of the characters were. I would most certainly recommend The Diving Pool to anyone who is willing to read about another culture and who is more complex in analyzing. You really have to follow along well in order to get the whole effect of the story. Also, many who aren't as open to different mindsets of cultures may be more turned off to the themes in the books as well. Overall, it was a very exciting read and excellent. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2013

    Delightfully obtuse book , you are in for a treat

    For the serious literary reader

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2008

    The Diving Pool

    The three novellas that make up this slim collection were not originally written to be read together. They were all published in Japan in 1990, but separately: Pregnancy Diary, which won the prestigious Akutagawa prize, was published in the magazine Bungakukai, while the other two were pulished in another journal, Kaien. Yet, they share similarities: All three have introverted young women as protagonists all involved domestic settings and all are imbued with a sense of hidden menace. Although a renowned writer in her own country, Yoko Ogawa has never published an English translation of her work in book form before, despite having written more than 20 volumes of fiction and non-fiction since 1988. American translator Stephen Snyder is the first to tackle her work, translating Pregnancy Diary first for The New Yorker in 2005. In a series of vignettes scattered over nine months, the narrator observes her pregnant sister's tortured eating habits with a quietly sadistic eye. Meanwhile, the titular Diving Pool, translated for Zoetrope last year. is a watertight emotional portrait of an alienated teenage girl and her obsession with an athletic and outgoing boy. And the last story, Dormitory, is rich with a suspense that would make Edgar Allan Poe proud. The narrator returns to her old college dormitory when her cousin moves in, and strikes up a friendship with the amiable if enigmatic old man who runs it, a triple amputee whose agility with his single leg is only as odd as the rot that seems to be swallowing the building up from within. These stories are riveting due to the vivid, almost tactile quality of their descriptions. Take the titular story, narrated by the teenaged Aya, the only child of deeply religious parents who run the Light House, a Christian orphanage. Aya's obsession with one of their wards, Jun, is luminously captured in the opening scene, in which she describes secretly watching him at their high school's diving practice, obviously drawn to his physicality: 'But it's when we're at the pool that I feel closest to Jun - when he's diving, his body nearly defenceless in only a swimsuit, twisting itself into the laid-out position, the pike, the tuck.' But this fierce tenderness is twinned with a sharp streak of cruelty, this time directed at a young, helpless orphan. Again, her emotions are rooted in the body of the other: 'The tiny legs protruding from the elastic hems of her pants looked like pats of smooth, white butter... There is something almost erotic about their defencelessness, and yet they seem fresh and vivid, like separate living creatures.' But before you mentally categorise Ogawa as being part of that school of Japanese writers who are obsessed with the human body and the myriad ways it can be hurt - see Ryu Murakami - it is actually remarkable how much these stories, barring character names and a few mentions of kimonos and mochi, actually read as if they could be set in any city in any reasonably modernised country. This sets her apart from most of the popular contemporary Japanese writers published in translation today - the two Murakamis, Banana Yoshimoto - whose works in various ways actively address the intensively cultivated culture in which they are set. However, it does not appear to be a deliberate attempt on the author's part to universalise her stories by eschewing cultural references. Rather, it is an indication of how inwardly-drawn her protagonists are, never engaging with society long enough to reflect its quirks. Indeed, these stories are an impressive plunge into the darkness of the human psyche. But ultimately, this collection feels too narrow in its focus, too one-note in its emotional intensity. Perhaps that is unfair, since the stories were not written to stand together. In any case, it leaves you wondering what depths the author would plumb in a full-length novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2008

    Fresh voice from an ancient culture

    The three stories in THE DIVING POOL move from simple to increasingly more complicated levels in the telling. In a way, the first's the most satisfying and the second the least. For there's a truly unsettling crime in both. However, whereas the first perp pays, that in Pregnancy diary doesn't. In terms of the third counter-heroine, I'm still sorting out the layers of meaning in the story. And it's not because of the translation. For the English rings clearly and inevitably throughout, reporter-style. In fact, author Ogawa's book has the impact and some of the same themes as Camus' classic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2013

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