Fear and Trembling

Fear and Trembling

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312288570
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/18/2002
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 241,893
Product dimensions: 4.96(w) x 8.09(h) x 0.39(d)

About 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.

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."

Table of Contents


Fear and Trembling,

Reading Group Guide

1. The novel is a portrait of life in a Japanese office from the point of view of a Westerner. What seems peculiarly "Japanese" about the Yumimoto Corporation, and what things might or might not have happened in a company with headquarters in Chicago or Houston?

2. The relationship between Amelie and Fubuki Mori is central to the book. Discuss what bonds them and, eventually, what repels them. Are some of these reasons the same?

3. The novel gradually but inexorably becomes a battle of wills between Amelie and Fubuki, each refusing to back down and admit defeat. At the core is the whole issue of "face," particularly the importance of not losing it. How do you feel "face" relates to what happens in the story?

4. Amelie wants desperately to become Japanese, according to her definition of what this means. Does she succeed by the end?

5. Halfway through the novel Amelie provides a long description of what Japanese women have to endure in their culture, and how their quest for perfection both drives and dooms them. Do you think women living in this country – particularly women working within corporate structures – share their dilemmas?

6. Why is Amelie so drawn to windows? Is she suicidal? And is Amelie a victim or does she bring about her own downfall?

7. Japanese women are held to high behavioral standards. Are Japanese men held to the same standards? Consider all the men in the novel, from the maniacal bully Mr. Omochi to the saint-like Mr. Saito. Does the strict adherence to hierarchy render them in someway powerless? After all, even the supreme Mister Haneda can only stand aside and let the excruciatingly embarrassing drama between Fubuki Mori and Amelie run its course.

8. This novel is based on a true story. What do you think the original Miss Mori, whoever and wherever she is, might have felt while reading Fear and Trembling?

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Fear and Trembling 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
joririchardson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a gem of a little book, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading!It is a novel, based on the true experiences of the author, Amelie Nothomb. She is a Westerner who goes to work for a Japanese company. Even though she knows Japanese customs inside and out, she finds herself continually making cultural blunders, and gaining the hatred of her superiors despite her efforts to reverse their opinion of her. Despite the lack of reciprocal feelings, Amelie is fascinated and deeply loyal to her direct supervisor, the beautiful and confident Fubuki Mori. This book is easy to read, but has a sort of simplistic beauty to it that leaves it without need for fancy wording or flowery prose. Nothomb is a brilliant writer, and she peppers her story with dashes of culture, insight, clever wording, and strong characters. I loved the sense of Japanese culture, so deeply ingrained in its people, that this book showed a glimpse of.I will remember this book for a long while, and I am looking forward to reading more by Amelie-San.
RBeffa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This short novel was a quick and easy read. I enjoyed about the first third of the book immensely as Amélie begins her year working for Yumimoto Corp in Japan. She is the lowest of the lows as a new employee. She takes orders from everyone. Initially she worships her immediate supervisor, Miss Mori, who appears to be the only sane person in the corporation and perhaps the only friend she will have. Amélie looks at Miss Mori, a statuesque impossibly beautiful woman with an intensity bordering on obsession. But then by chance she is given an unexpected opportunity by someone in another department and thus begins her downfall, as western ideas of what one should do clash irreconciably with the Japanese corporate culture reality. Miss Mori is not her friend, it turns out. She betrays Amélie to thwart her success. She quickly becomes the torturer intent on making Amélie pay her dues. At this point the narrative for me makes a fatal turn and becomes almost slapstick. Amélie, a smart intelligent woman is suddenly a borderline idiot. I suppose we are to see this as her reaction to her initiative and smarts being punished, but it was more like a 360 degree turn out of nowhere. She supposedly goes three days without sleep and then finally collapses in the office and covers herself with garbage to keep warm. She no longer had my sympathy, although the narrator was clearly playing for such from the reader. There were some redeeming moments in the story thereafter, but the novel never recaptured (for me) the intial charm of the culture clash. The middle of the book also contains a rather extended description, almost a rant, about what Japanese women have to endure in their culture. I was immediately struck with the thought of "Where is this coming from? On what basis has the author derived this extensive analysis?; certainly not from her limited interaction with Miss Mori ... and this diatribe certainly broke the rule of show don't tell, by telling us very bluntly whereas we had already been shown (as well as told a bit) parts of this earlier. At the end I was thinking "glad this is over - at least it wasn't a total bust - let's get on to something else" which is not a good way to feel at the end of a book. Let's just say I felt let down.
Capfox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Living in a foreign country is often not as wondrous and glamorous as it appears to be from the outside. No matter how much you want to get to know your new culture and fit in, there are always differences in the way you approach people or matters, and even if you're trained ahead of time, you don't know what they all are, and they can still catch you unawares, and help bring you down.Such is the case in Nothomb's book, which is a scathing, thinly fictionalized satire of her time working in a large Japanese company. She had wanted to spend time living in Japan again since being there with her parents as a child, and working there is an ideal way to try it, but she missteps with her coworkers time and again, in the most ridiculous ways. For example, after being hired to translate, she is criticized for speaking Japanese in front of people from another company, and forbidden to understand Japanese in the future.Such indignations are par for the course in this book, and the poisonous relationship between Nothomb and her immediate superior, Ms. Fubuki, provides plentiful other examples. It's a very amusing story, if a bit harsh at points, and can be read very quickly. There aren't a lot of characters, and beyond the main two, they're pretty one-dimensional, but it doesn't really make a difference in a satire. It's not something that's likely to stick with you forever, but it makes for a light, fun summer read. I'd get it out of the library rather than buying it, since it really is finishable in an afternoon, but it's worth a chance.
MarysGirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very funny and quick read. I enjoyed the insight into Japanese culture. The poignancy of a woman of European heritage, born in Japan, but treated like an outsider by all, also comes through. There was a lot of humor, but also some heartbreak. I'm passing it on to my Japanese-obsessed daughter.
chickletta on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this book based on her own life, Amelie returns to her birthplace Japan on a year-long contract as an interpreter for Yumimoto Corporation. The corporation is a place of rigid hierarchy - "Mister Haneda was senior to Mister Omochi, who was senior to Mister Saito, who was senior to Miss Mori, who was senior to me. I was senior to no one" begins the author.Amelie was born in a small Japanese village and spent her formative years there. For her, this job is a dream come true, a return to her childhood. Little does she know of the trials awaiting her. Early on, she incurs the wrath of Mister Omochi when she converses in fluent Japanese with a visiting Japanese delegation to Yumimoto. Her crime - discomfiting the delegation by not knowing her place within the Japanese culture as a Westerner. She is immediately ordered to un-understand Japanese!Amelie is taken under the wing of a well meaning Mister Tenshi who assigns her the task of writing a report on fat free butter being developed in Belgium. Her success with this report is immediately perceived by her ethereal superior Miss Mori as an attempt to rise too much too soon within Yumimoto without paying her dues. Little transgressions like these get blown out of proportion and with each such misstep, Amelie is reassigned more belittling tasks. The final blow comes when Miss Mori banishes her to the toilets to clean them, both the men's and women's. Amelie enters a Zen like state by doing this task with all the dignity she can muster. She can quit over this, but doing so would be to lose face before all of Yumimoto. All of Amelie's tribulations are detailed with a sparkling dry wit and even when you're laughing at Amelie's predicament, you're feeling terribly sorry for her. The most interesting part of the book was for me reconciling the character Amelie's life with that of the author. Amelie Nothomb's life details correspond roughly with much of the character's but you can't help but wonder if there isn't an element of exaggeration in this tale. In India, I've witnessed the fervor with companies train their teams on Japanese cultural norms. But still, if this is the way most Japanese companies run, how are they the leaders in so many fields today?
lhossler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really entertaining dark comedy about a young woman who thinks she has all the answers only to get slapped down at every turn. No matter what they put her through, she stays peppy.
Litfan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This short novel is both absurdly funny and touchingly sad. It is a fearless exploration of the differences between Eastern and Western culture, shown through the eyes of Amelie, a Japanese-born Belgian woman who has gotten a job in a Japanese corporation. Her experiences range from the absurd (being told by a superior that she is no longer allowed to understand Japanese) to the humiliating as she, with the best of intentions, continues to make mistakes and violate cultural norms. There are some very insightful comments on the nature of Japanese culture; for example, ¿You find the most outrageous deviants in the countries with the most authoritarian systems.¿ There is also some very wry, but poignantly accurate, commentary on the duties of Japanese men and women. While Amelie is treated poorly at the company, she provides the context that explains to the reader why her superiors respond the way they do . This was quite a short novel that could be read in one sitting, but leaves you thinking long afterwards. It is humorous, as well as thought-provoking and enlightening about Japanese culture and the clash that can occur when East meets West. A wonderful piece of literature.
bertonek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A quick read, fun, but with a very limited look at the author's life. Not ideal for those who want deep character development.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fantastic! Quick, intense cultural gap. Perfectly illustrated. This book, set in the contemporary corporate culture of Tokyo, is illuminating, stunning, and oh so witty. Sort of Zen philosophy meets theater of the absurd. A must read!
lindseynichols on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
funny, fast, biting and dark. nothomb will rock you with this story about one belgian woman's downward spiral as a corporate translator in japan.
samatoha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
a small treasure of a book,with many levels of interpretations,some obvious, some more hidden:simple and complicated at the same time, it's a magnificent piece that can be thought of as a succesfull zen-budahist experience of the main character, in a Kafkaish,modern world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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