Fear and Trembling: A Novel

Fear and Trembling: A Novel

3.0 4
by Amelie Nothomb

View All Available Formats & Editions

According to ancient Japanese protocol, foreigners deigning to approach the emperor did so only with fear and trembling. Terror and self-abasement conveyed respect. Amélie, our well-intentioned and eager young Western heroine, goes to Japan to spend a year working at the Yumimoto Corporation. Returning to the land where she was born is the fulfillment of a

…  See more details below


According to ancient Japanese protocol, foreigners deigning to approach the emperor did so only with fear and trembling. Terror and self-abasement conveyed respect. Amélie, our well-intentioned and eager young Western heroine, goes to Japan to spend a year working at the Yumimoto Corporation. Returning to the land where she was born is the fulfillment of a dream for Amélie; working there turns into comic nightmare.

Alternately disturbing and hilarious, unbelievable and shatteringly convincing, Fear and Trembling will keep readers clutching tight to the pages of this taut little novel, caught up in the throes of fear, trembling, and, ultimately, delight.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Elegantly written . . . Nothomb demonstrates a shrewd understanding of the intricate ways Japanese relationships are made and spoiled.” —The New York Times Book Review

“[A] polished little satire.” —The Wall Street Journal

“A scathingly funny novella.” —Newsday (New York)

“Amélie Nothomb adds humor, the ingredient most often missing in other writers from France of her generation, the ingredient most difficult to translate.” —Los Angeles Times

“An utterly charming, humorous tale of East meets West . . . Nothomb is a terrific writer whose writing style is simple, honest, and elegant. Very highly recommended.” —Library Journal

“A sharp, satiric new novel . . . Readers are sure to be won over by her spare, self-deprecating and wise tale.” —Publishers Weekly

“Highly entertaining . . . Fear and Trembling (a perfect title) is filled with both droll observations and wry bitch gags.” —Kirkus Reviews

“There can be no doubt about Amélie Nothomb's talent: her imagination, energy, facility, fertility, her edgy use of language all prove that she is a writer of enormous gifts. Her writing is as sharp as a whip, the perfect antidote to sleep-inducing novels. She wakes you up. She shakes you up . . . Fear and Trembling will keep readers entertained and on the edge of their seats until the final page.” —Le Figaro

“More than anything this is a beautiful love story--in which Sappho meets the Marquis de Sade.” —Le Nouvel Observateur

Fear and Trembling is Nothomb at her finest. Never has she been so daring or inspired . . . This book is a small miracle. On second thought, no 'small' about it; it is plain and simple a miracle.” —Le Point

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Following on the heels of her American debut (Loving Sabotage), Belgian novelist Nothomb's sharp, satiric new novel--winner of France's Grand Prix de l'Academie Fran aise and the Prix Internet du Livre--revolves around a young Western woman's humiliations at a Tokyo firm. At age 22, Am lie has just landed a bottom-rung job in the import-export division of the powerful Yumimoto Corporation. As a European woman raised partly in Japan, she is at once insider and outsider: she is accused of creating an "appalling tension" by speaking perfect Japanese while serving coffee at a meeting ("How could our business partners have any feeling of trust in the presence of a white girl who understands their language?"), and is ordered to speak only English henceforth. She is awed by her immediate superior, the beautiful and unusually tall Fubuki Mori (whose name means "snowstorm" in Japanese). Fubuki, 29 and still unmarried, has earned her position in the face of debilitating sexism and brutal treatment at the hands of her superiors, especially the ranting, obese Mr. Omochi. Kindly Mr. Tenshi gives Am lie a rare opportunity to prove herself by allowing her to work on an important report; enraged, Fubuki betrays them both, sealing the young girl's fate. Despite her intelligence, Am lie is unable to complete the Sisyphean tasks doled out by her superiors, and Fubuki eventually relegates her to cleaning the rest rooms. Nothomb maintains a humorous and effective detachment throughout--Am lie, for instance, finds comfort in a recurring fantasy of falling through one of the company's 44th-floor windows. Readers are sure to be won over by her spare, self-deprecating and wise tale, which contains many smarting truths about sexism and racism in Japanese society, and even more about the rituals of corporate culture. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Winner of many literary prizes in France, Nothomb (Loving Sabotage, Stranger Next Door) presents an utterly charming, humorous tale of East meets West in her newest novel about a young Belgian woman who works for a year in Japan, a country that she has revered and admired since childhood. At the Yumimoto Corporation, a huge export/import business, the chain of command is made very clear to her on a daily basis, and all initiative is snuffed out. After several crucial errors, our heroine's career ends up in the toilet, literally. Nothomb is a terrific writer whose writing style is simple, honest, and elegant. Very highly recommended for all libraries.--Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Read More

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Mister Haneda was senior to Mister Omochi, who was senior to Mister Salto, who was senior to Miss Mori, who was senior to me. I was senior to no one.

You could put this another way. I took orders from Miss Mori, who took orders from Mister Salto, and so on up the ladder; of course, orders that came down could jump a level or two.

And so it was that, within the import—export division of the Yumimoto Corporation, I took orders from everyone.

On the 8th of January in 1990 an elevator spat me out on the top floor of a towering Tokyo office building. An enormous bay window at the far end of the landing sucked me over with the irresistible force of a shattered porthole on an airplane. Far, very far, below, I could see the city; it seemed so distant and unreal from that height that suddenly I wasn't sure I had ever even set foot there.

It didn't occur to me that I ought to introduce myself at the reception desk. Actually, at that moment, I didn't have a single thought in my head, nothing aside from fascination with the endless space outside the great bay window.

Eventually a hoarse voice from behind pronounced my name. I turned around. A small, thin, ugly man in his fifties was looking at me irritably.

"Why didn't you let the receptionist know that you'd arrived?" he asked.

I couldn't think of anything to say. I bowed my head and shoulders, realizing that in just ten minutes, and without having spoken a single word, I had made a bad impression on my first day at Yumimoto.

The man told me he was Mister Saito. He led me through huge, endless, open—plan offices, introducing me to hordes of people whose names I forgot as soon as he had pronounced them.

He showed me the office that was the domain of his superior, Mister Omochi, who was enormously fat and terrifying, proving that he was the vice—president of the division.

Then he indicated a door and announced solemnly that behind it was Mister Haneda, the president. It went without saying that I shouldn't even dream of meeting him.

Finally he led me to a gigantic office in which at least forty people were working. He indicated a desk, which sat directly opposite from another desk, belonging, he informed me, to my immediate superior, Miss Mori. She was in a meeting and would join me in the early afternoon.

I was just beginning to enjoy myself when Mister Salto interrupted me. He tore up the umpteenth letter without even reading it and told me that Miss Mori had arrived.

"You will work with her this afternoon. In the meantime, go and get me a cup of coffee."

It was already two o'clock in the afternoon. My epistolary exercises had so absorbed me that I had forgotten about taking a break.

I put the cup down on Mister Salto's desk and turned around. A young woman as tall and slender as an archer's bow was walking toward me.

Whenever I think of Fubuki Mori, I see the Japanese longbow, taller than a man. That's why I have decided to call the company "Yumimoto," which means "pertaining to the bow."

And whenever I see a bow, I think of Fubuki.

..Miss MORN—.

"Please, call me Fubuki."

Read More

Meet the Author

Belgian by nationality, Amelie Nothomb was born in Kobe, Japan, and currently lives in Paris. She is the author of eight novels, translated into fourteen languages. Fear and Trembling won the Grand Prix of the Academie Francaise and the Prix Internet du Livre.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Fear and Trembling 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I feel terrible being such a Negative Nancy about this book because the reviews I read on it were mostly good. Maybe I had such high expectations for this story that disappointment was inevitable. I don't want to spoil it for those who have not read it. The way the story is written seemed to magnify the negative aspects of Japanese culture in a very one-sided way. It is a lot darker than expected. It's only 70 pages long, and I found myself very bored the first 40 to 50 pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leanne Hinkle More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
A bestseller in France and winner of numerous French literary prizes, Belgian author Amelie Nothomb plumbs her own life for her slim, sharp and funny novels of common cruelty, idealized love, xenophobia and other absurdities of the human condition. Like the author, Amelie, the narrator of her most recent novel, 'Fear And Trembling,' is a Belgian who was born in Japan and grew up all over the world. As a young college graduate, Amelie returns to her beloved Japan, having landed a low-ranking office job at a large Japanese corporation. Full of love and optimism, she is particularly struck by the beauty of her immediate superior, Fubuki Mori, one of the company's five women (out of hundreds of employees). Fubuki's grace and perfection dazzle Amelie, but it is not this platonic distraction that leads to her downfall but her own enthusiasm and Western ambition. Her first blunder occurs through an excess of perfection. Assigned to serve coffee at an important corporate meeting, she performs flawlessly. 'I served each cup with studied humility, incanting the most refined phrases in current usage, lowering my eyes, and bowing. If there were such a thing as an ochakumi Order of Merit, it would have been awarded to me.' The meeting is a disaster: ' 'How could our business partners have any feeling of trust in the presence of a white girl who understood their language?' ' Though her facility with the language was the way she landed her job, Amelie is ordered to forget Japanese. Her next blunder is more serious. Asked by another department to compile a report that uses her language facility and knowledge of Western business practices, Amelie incurs the wrath of the one person she thought of as a friend - Fubuki. Having worked so hard to reach her position, she is infuriated by Amelie's ambition and denounces her for sidestepping the proper channels. Confronted, Fubuki remains serene, casually dismisses any notion of friendship with Amelie and essentially echoes the sneer already delivered by a male superior: ' 'That disgusting sort of pragmatism is worthy of a Westerner.' ' As her career descends through various mind-numbing tasks, Amelie remains unable to repress her impulsive emotions and a catastrophic show of sympathy for Fubuki leads to a final blow from which there is no recovery. Still, Amelie does not give up and the novel develops a universal loss of face and a suspended sense of serenity, contained in small aesthetic pleasures - Fubuki's porcelain features, the meditative window view, a few minor rebellions in the company. Nothomb's style is razor-sharp but compassionate too. Amelie's outraged sense of fairness stirs the reader but so does the Japanese dignified sense of face. Which is more essential to society, fairness or face? Perfect beauty is also at the center of 'Loving Sabotage,' published last fall. Covering the years from 1972 to 1974 when she was five to seven and her family left her beloved Japan for a European ghetto in Peking, the unnamed narrator (Nothomb states in an afterward that the novel is entirely true, as far as a child's memory can be), recalls an atmosphere of all-consuming warfare among the children, when cruelty was, literally, child's play. 'In that nightmare of a country, the adult foreigners lived depressed and uneasy lives. What they saw revolted them; what they didn't see revolted them even more. 'Their children, however, were having the time of their lives.' Hilarious and fierce, Nothomb captures the essence of childhood - its self-centered preoccupation, seriousness and joy. The novel's focal point is the narrator's stunning realization that she is not the center of the world. The center of the world is another little girl, Elena, and she now revolves around her. Elena's beauty is perfection, her serene character is cool, aloof and vicious, her disinterest is not to be borne. Elena's boredom with the war does not inhibit our heroine's enthusiastic participation but her attitud