Saturday, 12 November 2016

Brona's Salon: I am travelling into the narrow interiors of Japan with Basho and Downer.

What are you currently reading?

How did you find out about this book?
This is going to be slightly long. A few months ago I read an interesting article at Book Riot that introduced me to Narrow Road to the Interior, a translation of Matsuo Basho's famous travelogue Oku no Hosomichi. As I enjoy writing haiku, I felt had to give this book a go as it is a beautiful example of haibun, a prose passage wrapped up with a haiku. I kept an eye open for it, and found a free online translation that I immediately devoured. I decided I wanted a copy of my own and went hunting for it online. That is when I came upon On the Narrow Road to the Deep North by Lesley Downer. I downloaded it onto my Kindle from KindleUnlimited immediately.

Why are you reading it now?
Downer traces Basho's path into the northern most parts of Japan that are almost primitive in comparison to the rest of the country. After reading the translation of Oku no Hosomichi, I decided this would be a lovely follow-up -- a modern look into the passage Basho had taken and had written  about so exquisitely four centuries ago. 

First impressions?
I am currently about 16% into the book. I am enjoying thoroughly. I think I am as surprised and a little disappointed as Downer is as she has to forge through the contraptions of modern day Japan to discover the Japan of Basho's time. However, she does discover glimpses of them and it is so pleasing and exciting at the same time. I love that Downer constantly refers to Basho's book to see where she is at and how he described his experiences along the way. She even has the book Basho's travelling companion had written on the same journey, which she says is a more practical, utilitarian recording of the journey north. 

Which character do you relate to so far?
Well, since this is non-fiction, I am not sure I can call anyone a character. But most naturally, the one we are constantly in touch with is the writer/traveller herself. Also, the ghost of Basho significantly travels along, and we get to witness this part of Japan almost with two sets of eyes. 

Are you happy to continue?

Where do you think the story will go?
All the way deep into the north of Japan and back again.

This post is linked to Brona's Salon, a new meme that encourages booktalk.


  1. Like you, I have a bit of a thing for haiku but unlike you my copy of Basho's NRTTDN is sitting unread on my TBR pile.

    I'm hoping to visit Japan in two years time, so reading Basho (& now your modern travelogue) are about to get their time in the sun! I love the idea of travelling with Basho's ghost.

    1. Oh, Basho's book is lovely! In fact, as I began reading Downer's book I decided to get myself a copy. I'm waiting for it get delivered.:D

      It's lovely that you're going to Japan! Downer says quite early on that she was beginning to understand Basho's trip to the north, not to look at the cultural life-style of the people and that part of the land, but to visit places that were written of in song and literature and legend. Exciting!

  2. You have me completely intrigued! I've just pulled up the translation of Basho... we'll see where that takes me.

    1. Oh! I'd love to know what your reaction to Basho was. I'd be excited to share views...if you enjoy it.:D


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