Thursday, 7 April 2016

Chorus of Mushrooms: week one

Hello everyone and welcome to the beginning of our second Nikkei Book Club book discussion! I'm very excited to start reading and discussing Chorus of Mushrooms by Hiromi Goto with you.

*Just a note for everyone about Chorus of Mushrooms: the book is divided into five parts of varying length, so it's not as easy to break it up into sections as Mothertalk. I've broken it up into rough sections to focus my discussion questions on for each week, but I encourage you to read past my arbitrary dividing lines and comment on any part of the book you've come across that resonates with the topics at hand. Try to warn people about spoilers, of course. This week, I'm focussing mostly on the first 29 pages (in my edition) - up to the part about fingers getting frozen in the garage.

When I look at the beginning of Chorus of Mushrooms, I'm immediately struck with all kinds of similarities and parallels with Mothertalk. Both books skirt the line of fiction and non-fiction so you're not sure which is which, but while Mothertalk is (I would argue) usually considered non-fiction, Goto makes sure to tell us that Chorus of Mushrooms ultimately falls on the fiction side of the boundary: "In the process of re-telling personal myth, I have taken tremendous liberties with my grandmother's history. This novel is a departure from historical "fact" into the realms of contemporary folk legend". What sense do you get so far of the book's attitude towards truth? This can include Naoe's, Muriel/Murasaki's, or what you think Hiromi Goto's attitude is. How is the truth useful or important, and how is it overrated? Are there common assumptions that these characters disagree with? Do you agree with what the book and the characters are saying about truth so far?

In particular, I think about this quote about "true" stories: "It's like people want to hear a story, and then, after they're done with it, they can stick the story back to where it came from." (1) Do you agree with this assessment? Are there other reasons why "true" stories like Mary Kiyooka's appeal to you, or don't appeal to you?

And, like in Mothertalk, there's some really interesting back-and-forth between Japanese and English: Murasaki telling her lover a story in Japanese that we read in English, Naoe knowing English but pretending not to and her daughter pretending not to understand Japanese. And yet Muriel/Murasaki and Naoe understand each other even while speaking two different languages. Are actual language barriers of any importance in Chorus of Mushrooms, or are they just stand-ins for other barriers and creators of intimacy? Why do you think language works this way in this particular story, what does that tell you about the world we're entering?

For those of you who read Mothertalk, are there any other things you notice about Chorus of Mushrooms so far that make for an interesting compare/contrast? And whether you're new to the Nikkei Book Club or not, what other books does Chorus of Mushrooms remind you of, and why?


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