Bilingual Review: Honeybees and Distant Thunder by Onda Riku (蜜蜂と遠雷 恩田 陸)

Winning two major awards, the Naoki Prize for 2016 and the Booksellers’ Award for 2017, this book has been very popular in Japan. I don’t live in Japan but get a sense of popularity based on rankings from Bookmeter.com.

I decided to read this book because I knew I liked Onda Riku’s writing style from reading her novel Night Picnic. Night Picnic is about an entire school taking an annual epic walk through the night, so it is filled with descriptions of a monotonous activity: walking. In Honey Bees and Distant Thunder she describes song after song performed by a young person alone on a stage with a piano. In both of these novels she demonstrates her skill as an author by engaging the reader through vivid and creative descriptions of something that doesn’t seem like it could be so interesting on the surface. Each new song is a new experience, and I think I enjoy reading her descriptions more than I would be able to appreciate an actual piano contest. Although, after reading her novel, I do think I would be able to appreciate real piano music a bit more than before.

第156回直木賞と第14回本屋大賞を受賞して、日本では人気になった本です。日本に住んでいないですが、読書メーターのランキングを見て人気度を把握しています。

前に読んだ同作家が書いた『夜のピクニック』の文体が好きでしたから、この本を読もうと思いました。『夜のピクニック』は高校全生徒で毎年行われる一晩中の歩行についての物語なので、歩行という面白くなさそうな行為の描写に満ちています。同じように『蜜蜂と遠雷』では一人の舞台上の若者の演奏からまた次の一人の演奏を描写しています。双方の小説は面白くなくなる恐れがありそうなのに、鮮やかで想像力のある描写でできていますので恩田さんの作家としての才能がはっきり示されています。それぞれの歌は新しい経験になり、僕にとって実際のピアノコンクールを聴くより恩田さんの言葉の方が楽しめると思います。それにしても、この小説を読了して以来、実際のピアノの音楽が以前より楽しめるようになったと思います。

The story closely follows four characters and their experience through an international piano contest and is told from a variety of perspectives including the contestants, a contest judge, and a documentary filmographer.Kazama Jin is the most intriguing character. He is younger than most of the contestants, he doesn’t dress the same, he’s nonchalant while all of his peers are dead serious and tightly wound. His piano playing is shocking. The reaction of the judges to his music really caught my attention.

One of the Judges, Mieko, thinks about Jin’s music, and realizes that with years of experience in the classical music industry, the original and true music people love as a child becomes locked away inside a small room deep inside your chest.

The novel describes Jin’s music like this:

…Kazama Jin’s performance comes in and tears open the door of that all but forgotten small room in an instant. Your reaction could only be one of two extremes: wild excitement that the door has been flung open for you, or repulsion at the brash rudeness of the sudden intrusion into your private room.

The reactions to Jin’s performance make me think of people’s reactions when they heard Jesus teaching. Jin and Jesus both brought on this kind of polarized reaction. Jesus was the son of a carpenter, without formal education, while Jin was the son a of a beekeeper and didn’t even own a piano, so neither had the usual pedigree to earn respect from the elites. Many Jewish leaders were so offended that they were trying to kill Jesus while others were completely amazed at the authority of his teaching. Jin’s performance caused a similar reaction among the Judges because he tapped into something that was deeper and surpassed all of the hard work it took for the judges to become the elite of the classical music world. Some judges were viscerally angered, while others were amazed.  However, while the Jewish leaders and the piano contest judges were divided into polar opposite opinions, just as Jesus was adored by crowds of common people, the audience at the contest had no qualms about fully embracing Jin’s unorthodox performance.

Jin is able to create something more real and moving than the traditional classical music world of the elites could offer. I think we are designed to be attracted to a character like Jin, and this is why I think the book has become so popular.

If you are interested in learning more about this book, take a look at other reviews here and here. I posted an unofficial translation of a small section of the novel, so please check it out. Also, of course, please support the author by buying and reading the book.

この物語では四人のコンテスタントの経験という観点から国際コンクールが表され、コンテスタント、審査員、ドキュメンタリーの撮影者など、色々の見方から語られています。登場人物の中では風間塵は一番面白いです。他のコンテスタントより若く、服装も違って、コンクールを厳重に捉えている他人に比べるとコンクールの厳しさに無関心のような態度を持っています。彼の愕然させる演奏に対する審査員の反応に目が留まりました。

美枝子という審査員は風間の音楽について考えていると,音楽業界で生きてきて子供の時に心から好きな音楽は胸の奥の小部屋に閉じ込められてしまうと気づきました。

小説の中で風間の音楽は以下に説明されます。

…風間塵の演奏は、本人も忘れていたその小部屋を突然訪れ、いきなり乱暴に扉を開け放つ。それが、扉を開け放ってくれたことに感謝する熱狂か、いきなりプライベートルームの戸を開けやがって失礼なという拒絶かという、極端な反応になって顕れるのだ。

風間に対するこういう反応は聖書でのイエスの教えに対する反応を思わせます。正式な学歴を持っていないイエスは大工の息子で、ピアノも所有していない風間は養蜂家の息子で、両方も偉い人の関心を引くような立場じゃなかったです。ユダヤ人の偉い人は少なからずイエスを殺したがっていました。一方他の人はイエスの権威をもっている教えのを素晴らしく思っていて仰天していました。風間の演奏は審査員としてトップまであがるための努力より深いことを発揮していましたから、同じような極端の反応を招いていました。審査員は何人か恐ろしい剣幕になっていましたが、他の審査員はたまらなく嬉しかったです。しかし、イエスはたくさんの庶民に愛されていたように、コンクールの観客達は遠慮なく風間の演奏を楽しんでいました。

風間はクラシック音楽界の偉い人の認めているものや伝統より深い音楽を作ることに成功しました。私たち人間はそういう人物に惹かれるように設計さらたと僕は思い、この本の人気の理由はそこにあると思います。

この本に興味をもってもっと知りたければ、他の英語のレビューはここここにあります。この本の小さい一部を個人として英訳をしましたから、よかったら読んでください。それに、もちろん、本を買って読むことで恩田さんの活動を支持してください。

2 thoughts on “Bilingual Review: Honeybees and Distant Thunder by Onda Riku (蜜蜂と遠雷 恩田 陸)”

  1. Great review! I think you did a great job getting touching on some deep topics about this book (which I don’t think I did as much in myreview), and the comparison to Jesus is also insightful.

    The translation snippet here is done really well. My only (very minor) complaint is I would have used a colon instead of a semicolon.

    Thanks for linking to my review (:

    I’ll tell you funny coincidence–I just went to a used book sale recently and just happened to pick up a copy of, yeah you guessed it, 夜のピクニック!

    1. Thanks! I didn’t want to cover the same things that you and others had already covered, and I wanted to keep it short since I tried to write it in two languages.

      I debated over the colon and semicolon, so I will go ahead and change it to a colon.

      I hope you enjoy 夜のピクニック

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