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Earthlings (2020)

de Sayaka Murata

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Where do you even begin when you want to describe the experience of reading a book like Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings? I’m a reader who, over a lifetime of reading that spans decades, has read thousands of novels, but Earthlings may just be the most stunningly horrifying one I’ve ever read. Think of the most universal cultural taboos there are, the ones shared across the globe, and it is likely that Murata has made them part of the story she tells in Earthlings about a little Japanese girl who fights so hard not to become part of her country’s “baby factory.” This is a coming-of-age novel like none you have ever read — or will want to read again.

Eleven-year-old Natsuki is a misfit whose mother reminds her every day that she is inferior to her sister in all the ways that count. That’s bad enough but, unfortunately, it is not the only kind of abuse that Natsuki suffers. Things gets even worse for her after a handsome young teacher at her school begins to give her private lessons outside normal school hours. So it is little wonder that Natsuki’s best friend, the only one she can confide in, is a plush hedgehog-looking toy she’s named Piyyut who tells her that he has come from the planet Popinpobopia to help her save the Earth. As her mother will make very clear to her, no one else will help Natsuki.

Thoroughly traumatized by her childhood experiences, Natsuki grows into exactly the damaged and disturbed young woman she was destined to become. But members of her family, and her few friends, have no idea just how disturbed she really is. Nor do they realize that Natsuki has attracted two kindred souls who are every bit as disturbed as she is — two young men who are as determined as Natsuki not to give in to Japan’s cultural restrictions or the government’s pressure to reproduce for the good of the nation.

Bottom Line: That is the gist of the plot of Earthlings, but it is not what makes the novel so horrifying or difficult to read. The real horror, instead, comes from Murata’s detailed and explicit descriptions of the abuses suffered by Natsuki and the ways that she responds to the abuses she suffers. The author uses the same calm, straightforward prose style, almost a clinical approach, throughout the novel no matter what situation she is describing. And, somehow, that makes it all even more horrifying than it already is. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that reading Earthlings requires a strong stomach. Almost despite myself, I had to keep reading this one long enough to see how it would end — and what an ending it turns out to be. ( )
  SamSattler | May 4, 2021 |
gewöhnungsbedürftig! ( )
  Baresi | Apr 13, 2021 |
Well that was...interesting. First, this book gets all the trigger warnings. If you search out trigger warnings, avoid this one. (childhood abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, violence, cannibalism)

Natsuki, the main character in this book, is in many ways very similar to the main character in [book:Convenience Store Woman|38357895]. She has no interest in being a cog of society. As a child--a child who was mentally abused by her mother and sister--she came to believe she did not fit in. As an abused child, she was targeted by a pedophile, and her mother did not believe her. Natsuki got her revenge. As a child, her best friend (and "husband") was her cousin Yuu, who had a strange relationship with his mother and had decided he was an alien.

Twenty years later Natsuki is in a marriage of convenience to a man who also does not fit in. All of their parents are happy, though. But when they go to visit Yuu at their grandparents' old place, all three of these 30-somethings decide to drop out of society and hope to get back to their home planet. And then the story gets really disturbing.

I very much enjoyed the first half of this novel. The girl who doesn't fit in, the girl who perseveres despite being rejected by her mother and sister. Her and Yuu's friendship may be a bit wierd, but they see each other once a year and are both misfits of a sort. Natsuki's marriage and strange arrangements--fine. People do what they need to do. But when the three of them drop out and, essentially, go feral, I lost interest. Is this an allegory flying over my head? A case of group mental illness? Fungus/bacterial poisoning from the old and stolen food they are eating? I can't really take this seriously without some sort of reasoning/logic. And there isn't any. ( )
  Dreesie | Mar 22, 2021 |
The first chapters of this novel introduce us to 11-year old Natsuki. A sensitive girl, she is verbally abused by her mother and older sister, but things get markedly worse when she is sexually exploited by one of her teachers. This paedophiliac abuse is explicitly described in a revoltingly graphic scene which would probably be cut if this book were a movie.

Natsuki has her survival mechanisms. She clings to Piyyut, a toy hedgehog which, she imagines, is an alien from planet Popinpobopia who has come to Earth to give her magical powers. Another source of consolation is her family’s yearly visit to her grandparents’ house in a remote mountain village, where her aunts, uncles and cousins converge for the festival of Obon. Natsuki looks forward to her meetings with her cousin Yuu with whom she shares her woes. Yuu is understanding, as he also has his own problems, including a borderline-abusive relationship with his needy mother. For his mum, Yuu is an alien, and both Natsuki and Yuu himself seem to accept this at face value.

Fast forward a couple of decades and we find Natsuki living in a chaste marriage of convenience with her husband Tomoya. Both Natsuki and Tomoya settle for this peculiar arrangement in order to escape the strictures of what they call “the Factory”. The “Factory” refers to conventional Japanese society with its strict mores and pressures, especially on females to marry and have children. When Tomoya learns of Natsuki and Yuu’s childhood ‘alien’ fantasies, he embraces them with a naïve enthusiasm. Soon, Tomoya, Natuski and Yuu team up to create their own ‘alien commune’ in the mountain home of Natsuki’s grandparents. As they struggle to defiantly assert their own moral code, things get increasingly weird and surreal.

At its best, Earthlings is a darkly funny satire about society in general, and Japanese mores in particular. For instance, there’s a wickedly funny scene where the hapless would-be rebel Tomoya, eager to “make a statement”, visits his brother to propose an incestuous relationship, provoking a hilarious overreaction from the rest of the family. On the strength of such scenes, Earthlings would have worked brilliantly as a black comedy. More often than not, however, the novel comes across as merely gratuitous.

The fact is that for all its contemporary feel, what Murata is trying to do is not particularly new. The idea of the individual who takes on the rigid moral code of bourgeois society by breaking its taboos was a recurring one in the Romantic era. Goethe’s Young Werther, fictional rock star of his age, is just one of many examples. Looking at the literature of my country, Malta, this was also a theme dear to the modernist authors of the Sixties, whose novels often featured rebellious youths ostracized in a conservatively religious country. A case in point is Frans Sammut’s Samuraj a novel inspired by Japanese traditions. Samwel, the novel’s main character, struggles against what he feels are the stifling confines of a traditional, rural Mediterranean village, performing a hara-kiri in the final pages in homage to an “alien” culture at odds with local mores.

The problem Murata faces is that in our permissive times, very few taboos remain (at least in literature), and the few which are still considered “taboos” generally have good reason for being such. To jolt a jaded modern reader, Murata has to try hard. Perhaps too hard for my tastes. ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Mar 5, 2021 |
I have difficulty describing this book and the feelings it left. I was so addicted on reading it, but then the ending... I'm not sure what I think about it, it was something else than I expected. I haven't read a lot of Japanese books and I definitely want to read the [b:Convenience Store Woman|38357895|Convenience Store Woman|Sayaka Murata||51852264]. This was in no way conventional and I do find it interesting. I also like the writing style a lot. Maybe some day I can read something from the author in Japanese.

I'm definitely glad I read this, but I think it'll take awhile to sort out my feelings about it. Definitely an author worth checking out! ( )
  RankkaApina | Feb 22, 2021 |
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Sayaka Murataautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Takemori, Ginny TapleyTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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Deep in the mountains of Akishina where Granny and Grandpa live, fragments of night linger even at midday.
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