Today’s featured book is How Do You Live?, a fiction book written years ago (in 1937) by Genzaburo Yoshino and finally brought to us English readers today in an amazing translation by Bruno Navasky. Read on to discover more about the book and my thoughts on it as well.
A Belated Happy Publication Day to How Do You Live? (this post was due on 10/26 or publication day but was delayed due to technical issues!!). Thank you to the publishers for inviting me along on this journey and giving me an opportunity to read this book that I have might otherwise missed.
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How Do You Live? : Book Review and Blog Tour
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for inviting me on this blog tour, and for the beautiful ARC of this book.
Title: How Do You Live?
Author: Genzaburo Yoshino
Translator: Bruno Navasky
Length: 288 pages
Publishers: Algonquin Young Readers (October 26, 2021)
Genre: Children’s Fiction/Asia, Historical, Multigenerational, Multicultural
Age-Range: 10 – 14 (and up!)
Source: Publisher ARC
First published in 1937, Genzaburo Yoshino’s enchanting novel, How Do You Live? is finally available in English for the first time. Award-winning filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle) has long referred to this coming-of-age classic beloved by millions of Japanese readers as not only a major influence on his work but also his favorite childhood book, and he has recently announced plans to base his final film on it. Brilliantly translated by Bruno Navasky and with a foreword by fantasy master Neil Gaiman, who wrote the English-language adaptation of Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, this new edition will introduce legions of new readers to Yoshino’s timeless tale.
How Do You Live? begins with fifteen-year-old Copper, who has recently suffered the loss of his father, gazing out over his hometown of Tokyo, watching the thousands of people below, and beginning to ponder life’s big questions. How many people are in the world? What do their lives look like? Are humans really made of molecules? The book moves between Copper’s story and his uncle’s journal entries, in which he gives advice and helps Copper learn pivotal truths about the way the world works. Over the course of a year in his life, Copper, like his namesake Copernicus, embarks on a journey of philosophical enlightenment, and uses his discoveries about the heavens, earth and human nature to determine the best way to live.
Yoshino perfectly captures the beauty and strangeness of pre-war Japan – the changing of the seasons, the fried tofu and taiyaki stands, and the lush landscapes, as Copper explores the city on his bike and learns from friends and family what really matters most in life
That cover art is simply stunning and reminiscent of Mizayaki’s animation movies, and the title is so very potent and posing such a seemingly simple yet hugely important question. So it was love at first sight for me when I got the invite for the tour. Then I read the book description and Neil Gaiman’s foreword (his is the writing I most aspire to be able to emulate!), and I fell even more deeply in love with the book.
But wait, I had not even started reading the book at that point! Now that I have, I can strongly say that all those feelings of instant deep love were fully justified, more so actually.
What Do I Love About the Book
Well, simply put, everything!! I almost wish I knew how to read Japanese so I could read it in its original version but Bruno Navasky’s translated version is so very beautiful as well. However, I feel the need to say something more about what do I love about How Do You Live? So here goes, well, everything I love about it
The Characters, the Concept, the Descriptions,
Copper, the main protagonist, is so very delightful and likeable. As I turned the pages, I kept picturing this young teenager going about his everyday life in 1930s Japan, and it was – precious. His relationship and interactions with friends and family is full of warmth and so believable.
I loved the glimpses of prewar Japan, its back-alleys and its mansions all made alive and real through abundantly detailed yet not-at-all overwhelming descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells all around that make our world more so. In addition, we also get to look at the other side of the coin, of poverty and of bullying, of life in prewar Japan.
With chapters that switch between Copper’s life (his adventures with his friends, the discoveries he stumbles upon as he makes connections in his ever-curious and thinking mind, and all the daily minutiae) and his uncle’s journal entries that his uncle writes with the intention for an older Copper to read, the book takes readers on an exploratory and learning journey without us realizing it.
The book engages us on so many levels and brings with it lessons on philosophy, history, science, sociology, human relations, morals and ethics, and so much more. I l was awed by how Copper and his uncle talk about how everyone is connected to each other, each one of us, because of various reasons and dependencies. In one way or the other, each of us is connected to perfect strangers across the globe. This truth is timeless, and holds a deeper and stronger truth in today’s highly connected world.
and the etcs.
About a third of the way through, I stopped highlighting as I realized I was marking up most of my e-copy (not the physical one, thankfully!). I am going to skip a favorite quotes section and leave you to read the book for yourself. While this is intended for young readers, I am sure adults will enjoy this read and cherish the life lessons it offers in its own delightfully gentle way. Written in sweet, simple language, the book has a magic all its own, a peek into a past gone by and a hopeful look at the coming ages.
Last but not the least, it is sure to make readers pause every so often and ponder on the question that is also the title of this book. As for me, I am thinking about it for sure, and in a few different ways.
- One, to ask myself how I am living my life currently
- Two, to ask myself how I should live my life
- Three, ask others (and listen to their answers) this question ‘How do you live your life?’; again, both in a simple ‘how their everyday is’ and a deeper sense of living their lives.
What Might Not Work for All Readers But Should Not Discourage Any Reader
The back and forth between the POVs, while entranced me and made complete sense to me based on what I realized this book is trying to do, might not work for all readers. To be more specific, the philosophical or rather didactic turns the book takes when Copper’s uncle pens his thoughts down in his journal might feel too slow for readers in its target audience of 10 – 14 year-olds. But I want to tell all readers – young and old – keep going, and you will be glad you did!
For if you keep in mind the ‘why’ of this book, and look at all the gems of wisdom (some obvious and others that leave you feeling ‘oh yes, I have had that thought’, or ‘of course, why did I not think of that before?’), those didactic parts will totally be worth the read
A beautiful and brilliant, insightful and inspiring, tender and timeless, and thoroughly thought-provoking book that is a must-read for everyone, regardless of age. Read it yourself, gift it to loved ones, and yes, make sure you read it before the Studio Ghibli movie based on this book (currently in production) comes out.
Get It Here
More Book Info
Praise for How Do You Live?
“A beguiling … and ruminative coming-of-age tale … to excite interest and—happily—inspire thought.” –Booklist
“A deeply thoughtful Japanese classic…a gentle tale of self-discovery and reflection, and a compassionate guidebook on integrity punctuated by rich sensory details…Yoshino’s timeless lessons will resonate with sensitive readers young and old.”–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Genzaburō Yoshino (1899-1981) was a Japanese writer and publisher. In 1935, he became director of a collection of educational books for young people. Yoshino stepped in to write How Do You Live? when Yūzō Yamamoto, the expected writer, fell ill. Since its debut as a novel and guide to philosophy for young people, How Do You Live? has been re-edited and republished more than eighty times, a reflection of the changing times and culture in Japan.
About the Translator
Bruno Navasky is a teacher and writer, whose work as a translator and editor includes Festival in My Heart: Poems by Japanese Children and Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets. He was the founding editor of American Poet, the journal of The Academy of American Poets, where he now serves on the board of directors. He lives and works in New York City.
Thank you once again to Algonquin Young Readers for providing me the physical ARC of this book; and for inviting me for the book tour. All opinions are my own.
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, what do you think of the featured book now that you have read my thoughts about it? I hope you pick it up for yourself or for someone else (but still read it yourself too!) Did it remind you of any other books? Do let me know your thoughts on this post, and as always all comments and recommendations are welcome!