Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Fear and TremblingFear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amelie Nothomb's "Fear and Trembling" is a good read, a captivating and funny novella, even if it pales in comparison with her masterpiece, "Loving Sabotage", and does not quite reach the quality of "The Character of Rain" or "Hygiene and the Assassin".

Ms. Nothomb writes about herself in the first-person narrative. Belgian by nationality, she was born in Japan and she has worshipped the country since early childhood. She grabs an opportunity to come back to the country of her dreams and secures employment at Yumimoto Corporation. Her European (she calls it Western) upbringing and the Japanese business culture are not compatible in the slightest. The clash of cultures causes the trajectory of her employment to take a rather unusual path.

"Fear and Trembling" may not be very deep, but it is certainly funny. The story of Amelie's struggles with numbers in her short-lived attempt at accounting is hilarious. The repulsiveness of sweating is discussed in great detail. Amelie tries to discover what a person is eating while talking, from the distorted sound of words spoken. There is naked dancing on office desks. In addition to the humor, there is sharp sociological observation, for instance, "existence, in Japan, is an extension of The Company." One might laugh at the description of rules that govern the lives of Japanese women, alas, the account seems to be rooted in reality.

Ms. Nothomb's novella is not quite a trifle it may seem at the first glance. It presents a new take on the East-West divide - irreverent, sharp, and fresh. I am looking forward to seeing the 2003 movie based on the book.

Three and one quarter stars.

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