Snakes and Earrings (Originally published in Japan as Hebi ni Piasu) Review

Snakes and Earrings (Originally published in Japan as Hebi ni Piasu)
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Snakes and Earrings (Originally published in Japan as Hebi ni Piasu) ReviewThe Akutagawa Prize named after the prominent short story writer Akutagawa Ryunosuke has been awarded to whoever is considered the top new talent in Japanese literature for over the past seventy years. Past recipients include the literary heavyweights Abe Kobo and Oe Kenzaburo and more popular writers such as Murakami Ryu and Yu Miri. In 2003 two young women were awarded the prestigious award: Kanehara Hitomi, born August 8, 1983, and Wataya Risa, born February 1, 1984.
Although both novels have been translated into French, English reading audiences only have Kanehara's work available in English. Hopefully Wataya's work will be soon available in English as well, so we can see why the book caused such a stir.
Kanehara's Snakes and Earrings details the life of nineteen-year-old Nakazawa Lui. A bleach-blonde hostess who desires to have her tongue split like her boyfriend Ama's. After having her tongue pierced by Shiba-san, Lui desires to get a massive tattoo depicting a dragon and a Kirin. Instead of money, Shiba-san wants Lui to sleep with him. Although she has a boyfriend, Lui, entranced by the tattoo, willingly sleeps with Shiba-san who gets his jollies from choking the young woman. He also repeated informs her that he wants to kill her. Her boyfriend has also stated that he desired to be the one who killed her because he could not stand the thought of someone else doing so. Between two bloodthirsty men, Lui spends the rest of her time drinking, increasing the size of the hole in her tongue by inserting lower gauged studs, and working. Things seem to be in a repetitive cycle until the day Ama kills a member of the Yakuza, however, does Lui really care if something happens to Ama, an individual whose real name she does not even know?
Supposedly the main theme of Kanehara's 120-page novella is how well do individuals truly know each other. However, in my opinion, the theme is handled pretty heavy-handedly. Instead of coming out through character interaction, the theme is usually stated by Lui. "I don't know how old he is." I don't know where he works." And it is normally left at that until it is mentioned again. This theme is also common in the later works of Murakami Haruki; however, it is unfair of me to compare the works of a 56-year-old writer to those of a 22-year-old one.
Filled with kinky sex, one wonders if the novel struck more of a chord with readers because a young female author, she was 19-20 when she wrote the book, wrote on such matters than the actual literary merits of the book. However, being that Snakes and Earrings has been the best-selling Akutagawa prize-winning novel since Murakami Ryu's Almost Transparent Blue, it has created a few waves. Yet it remains to be seen if the novel and Kanehara have true staying power.
Snakes and Earrings (Originally published in Japan as Hebi ni Piasu) OverviewAn underground world. A murder. An international phenomenon. Snakes and Earrings. . . . Describing a world as amoral and fascinating as the landscapes of Less Than Zero and Trainspotting, this novel about a young woman living in the violent world of Japan's underground youth culture is both shocking and strangely beautiful. Enchanted by the snake-like tongue of a stranger called Ama, nineteen-year-old Lui takes a walk into another side of life. On the Tokyo streets, she finds a world where pain bleeds into pleasure. Where day fades into night. And where right turns into wrong. An international bestseller. Winner of the Akutagawa Prize. Translated by David James Karashima. "A powerful portrait of the post-bubble generation." —The New York Times "Snakes and Earrings won't get you arrested, but as you flip these pages, don't be surprised if you're looking over your shoulder.... Hitomi Kanehara fearlessly takes us into a world as inexplicable as Narnia and conveys us with graceful tenacity into the labyrinthine realm that makes up renegade Japanese youth culture." --J. T. Leroy

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