Monday, November 16, 2009

The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

The three stories in this book focus on young women in Japan in seemingly ordinary situations. Each character minutely observes the world around her. In “Dormitory” a young married woman helps her cousin find a place to live while he’s going to college. From the first paragraph of “Dormitory”:

“I became aware of the sound quite recently, though I can’t say with certainty when it started. There is a place in my memory that is dim and obscure, and the sound seems to have been hiding just there. At some point I suddenly realized that I was hearing it. It materialized out of nowhere, like the speckled pattern of microbes on the agar in a petri dish.”

I think the most intriguing of the three stories is “The Diving Pool.” At first it seems like a story about a girl with a crush on a diver. She spends her afternoons sitting in the bleachers watching him dive. He lives with her as her parents run an orphanage. Here she struggles with the transient nature of her life and her parents’ focus on others:

“Sometimes I have thought it might be better if I were an orphan, too. If I could have one of the tragic histories so common at the Light House – an alcoholic mother, a homicidal father, parents lost to death or abandonment, anything at all – then I would have been a proper orphan.”

Ogawa’s word choice seems extremely important and her translator must have done a very careful job to keep her voice. She sets up initially idyllic existences while slowly increasing the slightly creepy aspects. In “Pregnancy Diary” a younger sister keeps a record of how her sister’s pregnancy is proceeding, along with her subtle attempts to alter the outcome.

The Diving Pool is a quick read, but the stories will stick with you as they explore what human beings are capable of doing.

Escape to Books

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