As I mentioned in my review post about ظهور الصغير جن, I had some trouble finishing it, for reasons you can find in that post. However, I think one of the reasons I couldn't give up on it is because it was the first full-length fiction book I had attempted to read in Arabic and if I didn't finish this I didn't want to know what my self-doubt would have to say!
I left this book for a while after buying it because I was scared. The thought that kept tickling the back of my mind was fear that I would start it and find it so difficult to understand that I wouldn't be able to finish it AND I'd be put off attempting any other Arabic fiction book for the foreseeable future. What a dramatic corner of my brain that is!
As it turned out, once I sidestepped that doubt monster and opened the book I found myself at ease within a few pages, alhamdu Lillah! That's not to say that there wasn't the odd word I didn't understand, but I was able to use the old guess-from-context trick to get by and very quickly found myself reading the book almost as though it was in English.
Now, I'm not saying that every book we attempt to read in a second language, or one we are still learning, will be this easy. I'm certain it won't (and the fear of my next Arabic book is looming in that corner of my mind already). But it showed me that unless I try I won't know what I can achieve. And the more I do it, the more I will be able to read more challenging books next time!
I also learned that manga or graphic novels are definitely a good first step for reading in a language we are not entirely comfortable with.
Do you struggle with reading in some languages more than others? Are you learning a language and hesitating to dive into using it with fiction? Tell me in the comments which language and what you're scared of. Maybe we can work through it together!
On this journey I'm joined by Safiya:
I bought this book, with no previous knowledge of it, because I was looking for an Arabic-language manga or graphic novel and this was the only one I could find in the shop. When I read the blurb and discovered the topic, I found it was something I'd never read about in fiction before and so I bought it.
ظهور الصغير جن is the first in a series of books (called جن الحافي; Japanese original: はだしのゲン Hadashi no Gen; English: Barefoot Gen) about Gen, a six-year-old boy living with his family in Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War. The plot takes us through Gen's experiences of life in a Japan entirely dedicated to fighting the US forces and the suffering that the population went through as the country's resources, particularly food, largely went towards the war effort, leaving many on the brink of starvation. On top of this, Gen's father is very vocal in his opposition to the war and the whole family suffers condemnation by their community, often with physical violence, as a result of this.
The writer, Nakazawa Keiji, was a Hiroshima native and was himself six years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city. This book is, therefore, semi-autobiographical. It is clear from the start, from the introduction in fact, that the writer's aim with this series is to show the horrors of war and promote the pursuit of peace.
I struggled with this book and ended up putting it to one side for about a month while I decided whether I could finish it. My reasons for this struggle could well be personal and even due to a lack of understanding of this style of book, so I'll explore them here and do tell me if you think it is! My primary problem with the writing style was that it seemed quite repetitive; for the first three quarters of the book, I felt like every other page was telling me again that the war was bad and that the people were paying the price. This feeling of repetitiveness was compounded by the way this was often said in a very didactic style. That's not to say that the idea was not also demonstrated in the events of the plot, however. Perhaps the repetition makes more sense if the book is for a younger reader, which brings me to my second issue.
Another point of confusion for me was who this book was aimed at. I've tried to find out if it was intended for adults or children but am unable to come to a conclusive answer. Again, I wonder if a Japanese reader would automatically be able to tell from the style who the target age group is. Regardless, if it is for children, I would be very careful about the age group because there is considerable violence throughout and it is particularly graphic in the aftermath of the bomb, as well as emotionally challenging. The violence I found perplexing, though, was that against children by teachers and parents; these children were punched in the head so many times I wonder that they weren't all lying at home with concussion! Is this normal for a Japanese reader? I don't know! What I do know is that this is definitely a book to read first before deciding whether to share it with your children! There are also a couple of instances of nudity, which I was not prepared for.
My engagement with the book improved considerably in the last quarter or so as the story drew nearer to the day the tension was building up to: when the US dropped the atomic bomb. I found myself much more involved with the characters and didn't want to put the book down as I wondered what would happen to them in the aftermath. Gen's view of the explosion and what followed gave me a perspective on the event that I hadn't experienced before and I think this was the most valuable aspect of this book.
I have not read a lot about the bombing of Hiroshima but what I think of first is the long-term effects of radiation and the general destruction it caused to the population as a whole. This book, however, gave me a much more intimate experience of the struggles that the Japanese people had been dealing with even before the bomb was dropped, it gave me insight into the atmosphere of intimidation that was used to maintain support for the war, and portrayed the complete devastation that individuals suffered in the moments after the bomb was dropped.
The book has been translated into many languages (including English) and has been made into series and films, so I might give the film a go if I can get access to it, in sha Allah. I would be interested to see how they adapted it to the new medium.
If you have answers to my confusion regarding the writing style and target age group, please do comment and enlighten me!
On this journey I'm joined by Sofina:
It's been at the back of my mind that the first anniversary of my starting Book Nomad must be round about now. I remember starting it, then very quickly finding myself having to record in Ramadan and thinking, "hmm, maybe this wasn't the best timing". Alhamdu Lillah, the timing was perfect because it got me here.
It turns out it was 13th May 2018. One year (and a day) later, I'm still a bit bewildered by the fact that I run a podcast: I offer my thoughts, about complex issues, IN PUBLIC! And on top of that, I ask other people if they would join me to do it!
This is a good opportunity to stop and take a step back, so I thought I'd share a few reflections on my journey so far. I hope they might help you to think about your own journeys.
What I'm learning (it's a learn-forget-relearn process):
What I'd like to work on:
I also want to thank my guests so far who were generous with their time and enthusiasm, added so much value to the discussions and gave me a major boost of confidence in this project: Assia, Houda, Zakia and Sina.
Finally, I want to thank all of you who are so open in sharing ideas, kind when disagreeing and generally supportive. It's a pleasure to share this space with you all. Please forgive me for anything I have or will say that is inaccurate or insensitively worded. I hope you will hold me accountable, in a kind and constructive manner, when this happens, .
I look forward to continuing to grow and learn for another year, or as long as it is beneficial, in sha Allah.
The responsibility of talking about someone else's work and giving our own opinions on it is often on my mind when working on this podcast. It is also a topic that has come up in several conversations I've had recently on Instagram and even in my guest appearance on @sharediversity podcast. It's a challenge and something that we have to consistently keep in mind to strike a balance. Personally, sometimes, I do it well; other times, I'm not satisfied. That's the way it goes! We can only keep trying and be kind to ourselves and others as we do.
There are a few ideas that I try to keep in mind in this regard. I have bookended them with the two I feel are most important and affect all the others in between:
I also start each episode by reciting the prayer of Musa (Moses), which helps me to remember my intention:
رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِّن لِّسَانِي يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي
Lord, uplift my heart, ease my task and untie my tongue so that they may understand my words;
رَّبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا
Lord, increase me in knowledge.
We also touched upon this topic in episode 28 of the podcast, so do listen in on our discussion there.
Do you think about why you comment on books publicly? What techniques do you use to try and give dignity to the book and writer, particularly if you don't necessarily agree with what you've read? Share your ideas in the comments.
Let's try to maintain a reflective, open-hearted and beneficial discussion in the reading community!
Podcast: Ep. 28. France/Brazil: Le Petit Prince + The Alchemist by Antoine de St-Exupéry + Paulo Coelho
On this journey I'm joined by Sina:
Find Sina on Instagram @sharediversity and www.sharediversity.com.
Reader. Occasional writer. Muslim.