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The moon is beautiful tonight: On East Asian narratives

1.
Once a conversation with an Australian friend surprised me; she told me that Haruki Murakami, the world-famous Japanese novelist, struck her as “very Japanese.” “But why?” I puzzled, thinking of the Western pop culture references sprinkled throughout his works and his Englishized prose style.

“Many of his stories don’t have a real conflict,” she said. “Like in 1Q84, you feel all those surreal elements are built up for something, but in the end, nothing really happens. Even the romance between Tengo and Aomame ends up half-baked.”

That day, we were talking about story structure. I told her that very often my workshop friends comment that my stories don’t contain conflict. Their critique reminds me of the East Asian story-telling convention—at the risk of generalization, we tend to generate a plot without using conflict. As opposed to the West’s five-act or three-act, the term Kishōtenketsu is often used to describe the development of a classic East Asian narrative. It includes four different acts: introduction (ki), development (shō), twist (ten), and conclusion (ketsu). Introduction and development are comparable, though only slightly, to exposition and rising action, and conclusion to denouement. There’s not a climax that determines the character’s fate one way or the other in this setup. In fact, the present story in many East Asian narrative remains largely unaffected by the turbulent emotions roiling inside the characters.

Then, you may wonder, what’s the point of storytelling? Isn’t that boring?

It’s still intriguing. Take the great Japanese writer, Junichiro Tanizaki’s The Key. Written in diary form, the novel grapples with the sexual fantasies an elderly man harbors towards his wife, 11 years his junior, and his wife’s towards their daughter’s boyfriend. Both the husband and the wife lock their diaries in drawers, leaving the keys out purposefully—they hope the other will peek. The story is saturated with the couples’ intense suspicions of one another. Reading the book for a third time, I still found myself hooked till the very last page. However, Tanizaki’s work doesn’t involve a conflict in the Western sense.

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Kitaab Review: The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

‘The Almond Tree’ offers much optimism in spite of the violence, mayhem and melee and speaks to each of its readers through its lucid narrative and easy to follow plot and storyline, says Monica Arora in this review for Kitaab.

almond_tree_cvrThe bewitching debut novel ‘The Almond Tree’ of the Jewish American author Michelle Cohen Corasanti, a Jewish American is a busy story. Buzzing as it is with its dozen odd characters, mostly members of Ahmed’s family, his friends and mentors, who is the narrator of this saga, this is a heart wrenching account of misery, resilience, hope and the indefatigable human spirit and family bonding. Right from the first chapter when an innocent young child loses her life to the cruelty of landmines in terror stricken Israel, the reader gets a taste of the intensity and grimness of this sordid account woven around the intricacies of the decades-old Israel-Palestine conflict. Continue reading