Book Club Middle – God’s Mountain by Midori Bamba

I know I am late for a concluding post for this book, but…I am not finished reading it. I am struggling…not because there is an issue with the book, but because I am rereading it so close to Midori’s passing.

And the whole book is about the traditional, ritual sacrifice that Japanese elders would make for their families when they became older. It hits a little close to home when I think about Midori’s mind set when she told me she’d been diagnosed with cancer, and that she was simply going to put her affairs in order so that her children’ would not be burdened by it after she passed.

In that first post about starting this book, I mentioned that I expected a lot of Midori to be in this book, I just wasn’t prepared for how much would be in there. I have cried.

But I want to give you something, Make a start on discussion, and I think I would like to discuss the author’s voice, that elusive quality that editors and agents talk about so often but can never seem to really describe. They just know it when they see it.

Midori, in this book, uses a very distinctive voice (she also wrote as O. Snow). This voice, to me at least, is very Japanese. The sentences are short and to the point. Very reflective of Midori, the person.

When speaking to her in person, it is obvious that this is because English was her second language, and Japanese was her native tongue. And though you cannot read the Japanese accent she spoke with, having that personal, prior knowledge, I can hear her speaking the words to me. I think anyone familiar with the cadence of the Japanese, whether speaking in Japanese or English, would hear the words in a similar manner.

As an editor, when I first read this book several years ago, I cringed. I didn’t like the short, somewhat stilted sentences. My own writing, then as now, uses longer sentences and sometimes flowery wording. Back then, I had only spoken to Midori long enough at a writing conference for her to gift me a copy of the book. Back then, I thought I could help her tell her stories.

She didn’t need help.

This story is moving, and the somewhat formal, stilted language seems appropriate now. It adds an authentic quality, making it seem more memoir than fiction, though it cannot be. It makes the characters more Japanese, in a way, setting their language apart from the flowery, long-winded English so often used in Western story-telling.

It is an authentic voice that many an editor may have destroyed if given the opportunity, believing it needed to become more “westernized” for the American reader.

With this reading, I don’t think it does. I have learned an appreciation for the Japanese “voices” made truer by the sentence structure and formality.

If you are reading along with me, what are your thoughts about the “voice” of this story? Do you think it lends to the story, or takes away from it because it is so far from what we would usually read?

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