Fear & Trembling Review

Fear and Trembling
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Fear & Trembling ReviewThis charming and compelling novella was a huge hit in France, winning the prestigious Grand Prix de I'Academie Francaise and selling half a million copies, and while it's certainly good, I have to wonder if it was a slow year or something. Clearly based of Nothomb's own experiences in Japan (the title character is also named Amélie in case there was any doubt), the story covers a year in a Belgian woman's life as she starts and ends a job at a huge Japanese corporation. Because the character was raised in Japan and speaks the language fluently, she's caught between two worlds, she can never be accepted as a Japanese, but she knows to much to be the classic clumsy foreigner.
Which is not to say that she doesn't screw up culturally, because she does-multiple times-but often the underlying problem is not her, but in the system around her. Nothomb uses these little catastrophes as windows to criticize Japanese business and social structures with scathing attacks, most notably a long discourse on the plight of the Japanese woman. Amélie is contrasted with her immediate boss, an immaculately put together beauty who is a lowly middle-manager, but still the highest level female in the company. Amélie has an odd, vaguely erotic, attraction to her which complicates everything. When the entire office witnesses (but tries not to ) this woman's verbally rape and humiliation at the hands of the boss, Amélie finds this emblematic of Japanese society's ostrich-like tendencies. While this may all sound deep and dark, the book is actually quite lively and humorous. That said, it's not a breathtaking book. It's certainly well written and ably translated, and definitely worth reading as commentary on cross-cultural communication (especially by those intending to work in Japan), yet it's hard to understand how it could have become such a phenomenon in France. In any event, I'll certainly be tracking down Nothomb's other works in English.
One footnote: why must publishers insist on branding books "A Novel" when they are so clearly not. If a book is printed in a smaller than standard format, with loads of space between the lines, and comes in at 132 pages, it's a novella, not a novel. Clearly they feel uneasy about asking us for almost [$$] for a book that'll take no more than two hours to read-but please don't insult our intelligence by trying to pass it off as a novel!Fear & Trembling Overview

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