A smart, literate reimagining of Wuthering Heights, moved from the Yorkshire moors to seagirt Honshu, Japan, by way of Long Island.
The Heathcliff of the piece—less a tracing of Emily Brontë’s novel than an homage, for Mizumura brings plenty that is absolutely her own to this aching story—is an absolute outsider named Taro Azuma who appears in the novelist’s life (for Mizumura writes herself into the story, whence its title) as a supremely shadowy figure even as she herself is living in “three separate worlds,” somewhere between Japan and the United States, between childhood and adulthood. The trope of insider/outsider is important to Brontë’s original and no less so to Mizumura’s; Taro becomes phenomenally wealthy and successful, but he can never quite completely attain his Catherine. But then, no one in Mizumura’s fictional world seems content or absolutely at home; this is postwar Japan in a time of economic boom (“There used to be nothing but mulberry bushes,” says one character. “And now, all of a sudden, we have a huge elevated highway running through it”), but a pall of death and shame still hangs over the land. Mizumura’s novel within a novel, with its layerings of wealth, class and star-crossed love (“how could she possibly see someone like Taro except behind her parents’ back?”), has all the inevitability of its Georgian predecessor. Structurally, it’s as clever as Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84; and if it has echoes of classical Japanese literature (“A longing to visit Nagano again left him restless”), it owes as much in some ways to The Great Gatsby as it does to Brontë.
Whatever its inspirations, and whatever use it makes of them, Mizumura’s book is an elegant construction, fully creating and inhabiting its fictional—its truly fictional—world.