Japanese Literature and Historical Fiction Audiobooks

 

Haruki Murakami

Born in 1948 in Kyoto, Murakami is one of the greatest Japanese bestselling fiction authors to date. His novel Norwegian Wood published in 1987 marked an international break-through and a wide audience started reading his works. Because his immense popularity in Japan he ‘fled’ to New York. The Kobe earthquake and the Tokyo gas attack (see 'Underground') made him decide to return back to Japan. 

In Murakami’s novels transitions between real and surreal dimensions occur, characters slip through portals, take elevators and stairs or climb down wells to find themselves in kafkaesque surrealistic worlds.

More audiobooks from Murakami at Blackstone Audio or at Penguin Random House Audio

 

Aomame and Tengo were once classmates but haven’t seen each other for years.  Now in 1984, both nearly 30 years old, Aomame is a fitness instructor and an assassin of men who have violently abused their wives.  Tengo is a math teacher and a not so successful writer. One day, Aomame get’s out of a taxi to take an emergency staircase leading down from the city expressway. Then she enters a parallel existence, one that is nearly identical to the ordinary world of 1984 except that it has two moons in the sky. This world Aomame calls 1Q84,  whereby Q stands for ‘question mark. In the world of 1Q84 Tengo and Aoname have a special mysterious bond.

Tengo is asked to rewrite the story 'Air Chrysalis', once written by Fuka-Eri, who fled a religious cult named Sakigake. At the same time Aomame accepts the assignment to kill the leader of Sakigake. The publication of Tengo’s book and Aomame’s murder assignment brings them in a world of danger that they never could have foreseen.

1q84   -   Haruki Murakami and Alison Hiroto, Marc Vietor 2014

The Best Audiobooks Haruki Murakami Kafka on the Shore

Kafka, a boy of 15 years old is fleeing his father, a man whose malevolence takes the form of a prophecy: Kafka, he predicts, will kill his father and sleep with his mother and his older sister, both of whom vanished when Kafka was four. After a series of adventures, he finds shelter in a library in Takamatsu, run by Miss Saeki and Oshima. There he spends his time reading books until the police begins inquiring after him in connection with a brutal murder.

The story of Kafka is interwoven with the story of the eldery man Nakata who never recovered from a wartime affliction. Nakata has lost all his memories, his ability to read and write, and most of his intelligence, but he acquired the art to talk  to cats. In his job as a finder of strayed household felines, Nakata is coerced by Kafka's father into stabbing him to death.

Kafka on the Shore   -   Haruki Murakami and Sean Barrett, Oliver Le Sueur 2013

The Best Audiobooks Haruki Murakami Underground

It is the 20th of March 20, 1995 when a man drops a plastic bag to the floor and punctures it, releasing a deadly nerve gas. At the same time, on other trains four members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult do the same. The Tokyo gas attack left 12 people dead and thousands injured.

In the first part of the book Murakami interviews victims from this terroris attack, from a subway authority employee with survivor guilt, to a clothes salesman. The different stories from these survivors are not only giving a clear picture of the incident itself, but also of the lives and mentality of the Japanese commuters, the important role of work in Japanese society and the role played by the media.

The second part of the book consists of interviews with members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult and tries to explain why they did not question their master’s orders and resorted to terrorism.

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche - Haruki Murakami 2013

The Samurai's Garden - Gail Tsukiyama, 2017

In 1938, 20 year old Stephen is sent from Hong Kong to Tarumi, a small Japanese fishing village to recover from tuberculosis. There Stephen becomes fascinated by the mysterious past of the family’s caretaker Matsu. His friendship with Matsu and Stephen’s discovery of the love affair of his father makes him doubt if he wants to return to Hong Kong.

Me - Tomoyuki Hoshino 2017

This book is about the telephone scam in which the caller tries to get money from his victims, mostly the elderly. Hitoshi defrauds (by using Daiki’s phone) Daiki’s mother by pretending he is  er son Daiki. The scam succeeds but when Daiki’s mother shows up and really thinks Hitoshi is her son, Hitoshi has no choice as to start his life as Daiki.

Penance - Kanae Minato, 2017

One day the body of the young girl Emili is found by four classmates, who saw the suspect. Fifteen years later, the 

incident still unsolved, Emili’s mother wants each of the four now young women to do penance for the fact that they never identified the killer of her daughter. Produced as a crime series under the title Hokusai.

Harmless Like You: A Novel - Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and Emily Woo Zeller, 2017

Yuki Oyama abandoned her son when he was only two years old. Yuki Set left Japan of to New York to become a successful artist. But when she meets an older man who becomes her lover Yuki starts questioning the decisions she made and her life turns upside down.

Kokoro - Natsume Soseki and Matt Shea, 2015

Kokoro (meaning heart) is a story about the friendship between a university student and an older man, Sensei. Sensei lives an isolated life and has a mysterious past, full with secrets ,that he initially does not want to share with the student. But later he writers a letter to the student (the narrator) in which he explains the tragic events of the past.

Malice: Kyoichiro Kaga, Book 4 - Keigo Higashino and Jeff Woodman 2014

Famous writer Kunihiko Hidaka is found murdered in his  office at his home by his wife and his best friend, Osamu Nonoguchi, who is also a writer although not as successful as his now dead friend. 

Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga gradually discovers that the two writers were not best friends at all. But Osamu has a solid alibi for the night of the murder and what is the story behind the death of Hidaka’s first wife?

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden and Bernadette Dunne 2001

Set in 1929 in Japan, Chiyo Sakamoto is nine when she is sold to a geisha boarding house in Kyoto. Her sister Satsu, who is less attractive than Chiyo is forced into prostitution. Although desperately wanting to return home, she gradually acquiesces in her fate as she learns the rigorous art of the geisha and learns to compete with her rivals for the admiration of men and the money that goes with it. Over the years Chiyo becomes one of the most wanted Geisha’s: Geisha Sayuri. But then the war breaks out and in order to survive Sayuri has to take a calculated risk.

The Temple of the Golden Pavillion - Yukio Mishima and Brian Nishii 2010

In 1950 a young Buddhist monk set fire to the Golden Pavilion temple in Kyoto. The Temple was built before 1400 and the destruction shocked Japan. Although fiction Mishima's book is based on this event. 

Mizoguchi, an buddhist acolyte, suffering from a stutter, is fascinated by the beauty of Kyoto’s famous Golden Temple. But as his obsession with the temple grows he also sees that its structure is not completely perfect. The frustration with the temples imperfection leads Mizoguchi to a destructive act. 

Kitchen - Banana Yoshimoto and Emily Woo Zeller 2015

Mikage Sakurai, the narrator of Kitchen, is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Distracting her thoughts from grieving, Mikage spends a lot of time in the kitchen; cleaning and preparing food. She befriends one of her grandmother's friends, Yuichi and ends up staying with him and his transgender mother, Eriko. Now living together they all share the loss of beloved ones.

In Moonlight Shadow Satsuki loses her boyfriend Hitoshi in an accident ("The night he died my soul went away to some other place and I couldn't bring it back”) In that same accident the girlfriend of Hiirage (Hitoshi’s brother) was killed. Both in their own way Satsuki and Hiirage try to overcome their loss. Hiiragi by wearing his girlfriend’s schooluniform everywhere he goes and Satsuki by meeting and befriending a mysterious woman, named Urara.

The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936 - 1945 - John Toland 2014

Originally published in 1970 and awarded with the Pulitzer Prize in 1971, this history book gives a detailed account of the relations between the United States and Japan in de period from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More info at Blackstone Audio publishers.

A Personal Matter - Kenzaburo Oe and Eric Michael Summerer 2011

This novel (originally published in 1964) is semi-autobiographical (Oe’s son was born mentally handicapped) and accounts how Bird comes to terms with the birth of his brain damaged son. While his wife is in hospital giving birth, Bird is fantasising about a journey to Africa and because his handicapped son will shatter his dreams Bird encourages the doctors to let the baby die. In his escape from responsibility for the child, he turns to alcohol and women, his marriage fails and he is fired from his job.

In 1994 Kenzaburo Oe was awarded with The Nobel Prize for Literature.

Obasan - Joy Kogawa 2000

Obasan describes the story of a Japanese family in Canada during World War II from the perspective of the 5 year old Naomi.

After Pearl Harbor Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry were relocated and dispersed and their property was confiscated. Although this book is fiction, the author, born in 1935 in Canada, and her Japanese-Canadian family were forced to move to British Columbia during the Second World War.

Naomi is a sheltered and beloved when Pearl Harbor changes her life. Separated from her mother, she watches bewildered as she and her family become persecuted and despised in their own country. Surrounded by hardship and pain, Naomi is protected by the resolute endurance of her aunt, Obasan, and the silence of those around her. Only after Naomi grows up does she return to question the haunting silence.

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Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata and Brian Nishii 2010

The wealthy and lonely Shimamura is tired of the bustling city. He takes the train through the snow to a small town in the mountains to meet with geisha Komako. Shimamura believes he loves Komako. But the beautiful and innocent Komako is tightly bound by the rules of a rural geisha, and lives a life of servitude and seclusion that is alien to Shimamura, and their love affair is doomed to fail.

The Housekeeper and the Professor - Yoko Ogawa and Cassandra Campbell 2013

A housekeeper is dispatched by her agency to the house of a professor, a former mathematician who suffered brain damage because of a traffic accident. The professor can remember new memories for only 80 minutes.

The housekeeper is frustrated to find that he loves only mathematics and baseball and shows no interest in anything or anyone else. 

The housekeeper has a 10 year old son and she starts bringing him to the professor's house. The professor is able to communicate with her son through their mutual enthusiasm for baseball. Through the bound between the professor and the son, the housekeeper gradually learns how to connect with the professor, if only for 80 minutes, and a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them.

The Shogun's Daughter: A Novel of Feudal Japan (Sano Ichiro Mysteries) - Laura Joh Rowland and Bernadette Dunne 2013

Set in Japan in the beginning of the 18th century amidst the treacherous intrigues in the court of the Shogun, Sano Ichiro has been demoted from chamberlain to a lowly patrol guard. Yet, Sano's dedication to the Way of the Warrior, the samurai code of honour, is undiminished. Then a crime takes place. In his own palace, the shogun is stabbed with a fan and Sano is promoted to the rank of chief investigator to solve this mystery.

More Sano Ichiro Mysteries from publisher Blackstone Audio.

Out: A Novel - Natsuo Kirino and Emily Woo Zeller 2016

Four women work at a Japanese bento factory. Masako feels completely alienated from her estranged husband and teenage son. Kuniko has recently been ditched by her boyfriend. Yoshie is a single mother and caretaker of her mother-in-law, who was left partly paralyzed after a stroke. Yayoi is mother of two small boys and wife of a drunken and gambling husband.

Returning home one night, Yayoi discovers her husband has gambled away all their savings and she loses control of her temper. She strangles him to death.

Yayoi persuades Masako, who eventually gets Yoshie and Kuniko involved, to help her dispose of the body. The body is dismembered, secured in black garbage bags, and hidden all over Tokyo. It is isn't long before one hidden bag is discovered and the police begin to ask questions.

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