Book Review: 'Revenge' By Yoko Ogawa Fiction is reality and reality fiction in Revenge, Yoko Ogawa's absorbing cycle of interlinked, eerie tales. Readers may detect the shadows of Murakami, Borges and Poe, but, says critic Alan Cheuse, Ogawa's delicious tales cast their own singular spell.


Book Reviews

Under Ogawa's Macabre, Metafictional Spell

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

Now, some fiction that is not for the faint of heart. It's by a Japanese writer named Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder. The collection is called "Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales." Reviewer Alan Cheuse says the subtitle is particularly fitting.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The situations in these 11 stories certainly seem dark enough, as in the opening piece, "Afternoon at the Bakery," in which on a beautiful Sunday, a customer comes into the shop to buy strawberry shortcake for a child who died years before. Or in the story "Old Mrs. J" in which the narrator's rather repellant old landlady grows carrots in her garden in the shape of human fingers. Dark enough. But most readers won't be ready for the story titled "Sewing for the Heart," this one told by a bag designer whose latest customer is a woman with a heart growing on the outside of her chest, her heart, which when she reveals it to the bag maker, she wants him to make a sack to cover it, is pulsing and contracting.

By the time you read about the murder of the woman with the heart outside her body, you'll find dark getting darker and darker, more and more incidents that have already occurred in other stories recur and overlap in new ones: a torture museum, which happens to be run by the main character of a story about a brace salesman, who's in charge of caring for a Bengal tiger that roams through a couple of the other stories, and that bakery in the opening story turns out to be a shop in a book carried about by a mysterious woman with a dog in the story "Tomatoes and the Full Moon," which comes late in this cycle.

With these recurrences, Ogawa creates a figure-ground effect that makes each of the stories more than stand-alone short fiction and at the same time the creations of at least one of the characters in several of the stories. Are you reading about a trip to the zoo in a novel by one of the characters or a trip to the zoo in a story by Yoko Ogawa? Along with the hint of a nod to the American macabre with that tell-tale heart, pulsing and contracting.

CORNISH: Those dark tales called "Revenge" are by Yoko Ogawa. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse.

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