Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book twenty five: Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb

Continuing my quest to better understand Japanese Culture, I picked up Amelie Nothomb's short novel, Fear and Trembling.  This is the story of a smart, attractive Belgian women (also named Amelie) who has moved back to Japan and taken a job at a large Japanese enterprise, the Yumimoto Corporation.  Because she was raised in Japan her language skills are substantial.  But because she is not Japanese, it seems impossible for her to be accepted into the culture.

As she tries to make her way in the corporation, Amelie makes mistake after mistake.  But only because the demands of Japanese corporate culture are so impossible to navigate.  Soon, she's upset just about everyone including a tyrannical boss and her female Japanese supervisor.  The result? She's assigned to evermore menial and degrading office tasks.

The book's horrific tales of corporate cruelty are tempered with brilliant bits of humor. The story provides lots of interesting insight into why it's hard for foreigners to feel completely welcome in Japan, even when the entire country is so polite to outsiders.  Sometimes the madcap antics of the book cross the line into absurdity, and not always in a good way.  But Nothomb's crisp writing help make this super-short story a decent read.

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