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R&R 073 | Fear and Trembling

Amélie Nothomb
Fear and Trembling (Stupeur et Tremblement)
First published in: 1999 (in French)
This edition: Faber and Faber ltd., 2004
ISBN: 0-571-22048-7
Cover: photo by Getty Images, design by Two Associates

073-fearandtrembling

Having grown up in Japan until the age of 5*, returning to her former home country brings a certain amount of expectations with it for Amélie Nothomb. Her childhood in Japan was one of happiness; she hopes to rekindle with her home away from home, remembering and honoring her childhood years. In this critical autobiographic novella, Belgian author Amélie Nothomb shares her experiences interning at a large Japanese company for the duration of a year… and the disappointment of seeing what used to be her Japan in quite a different light, for her stay in Japan now is completely unlike her stay in Japan when she was a child, growing up there. The author's relationship with the country is severely tested in this little novel.

With zest and a healthy dose of sarcasm, Nothomb describes the difficulties of being a Westerner in the East – an astonishing contrast, when allowed to exist.

Amélie is viewed as less of a person than her Japanese colleagues, which shocks her… because she feels in her heart part of the Japanese people and culture. This is already hard for her to take, but there's one additional blow to take: being a woman. Amélie's direct superior is a Japanese woman who has to fight for herself and her job in the company… she does not allow for competition from any other woman, especially not when it said competition is another woman from the West.

Amélie doesn't really stand a chance. To illustrate:
Q: What is the task given to Amélie by her female superior throughout most of her internship?
A: Cleaning toilets.

To not be accepted (or respected as a colleague for that matter) is an immense disappointment – but Amélie bears it well. Her attitude is to be commended, because she endures it all. Every single obstacle thrown suddenly in her way, she endures. Amélie proves time and time again that she is the better person.

I'm going to say it: Amélie Nothomb is awesome.

I referred to this book as a 'novella' in my first paragraph; the book is very thin. The font is a bit larger than average, and the lines are ridiculously far apart. Tricks like these to make a really thin book appear to have more pages irritate me, and it did so here as well. Don't MAKE me get a Kindle. I love the touch of a real book in my hands, the motion involved with turning a new page and discovering the rest of the story bit by bit. Love that. But I tend to have less love and respect for thin books when they're ridiculously elongated, whether this is accomplished via layout techniques and font size (as is the case here) or via useless padding by means of repetitive text or useless dialogue (as is the case in many fatter books).

When I buy a book, I buy it for the words and their total meaning. Not for the pages and their total number. I wish publishers would get that through their thick heads. Stop trying to make an extra buck by wasting paper. Keep it real and realize that a lot of books have enough quality to be able to do without tricks & padding designed to make them appear to have more quantity (and thus more "quality").

Such as Fear and Trembling. This thin book is in my honest opinion actually equally good in content as many quality fatter books. Fear and Trembling is very memorable – another thing that makes me admire Amélie Nothomb. She has strength of character, she's a hard worker and she's a damn good writer. She's produced a disarming little book with a big message: hold your head up high, don't let anyone get you down. What doesn't kill you makes you (a lot) stronger.

Whenever an obstacle comes my way, I do tend to think of Amélie, cleaning toilet after toilet, enduring it all. Overcoming and rising above it. To me, she's an example.

I got my money's worth.

*) Amélie Nothomb's The Character of Rain (Métaphysique des Tubes) is a novella about her childhood in Japan.

———-
R&R series © Karin E. Lips 2008, 2009 and beyond

Karin Elizabeth
3 Comments
  • Morning Star
    Reply

    I love your reviews! You do such an amazing job! It's been some time since I started following your reviews. Just finished The Help and I absolutely loved it. Found this one in a second hand bookstore and will pick it up tomorrow morning. Can't wait! Your review got me really interested. 🙂

    PS: In the picture that you are with your back to the camera, going through the titles in your shelf I noticed there's a Stephen King book in there. I can't see which one. Do you plan on reviewing it? I would really like to see you reviewing King, since he's one of my favs. I'm going to read Fear & Trembling and then will adventure myself into the 1000 pages of his newest Under the Dome.

    Cheers! 🙂

    December 7, 2009 at 12:11 am
  • Karin Elizabeth
    Reply

    Hi there, thanks for commenting 🙂
    Glad you liked The Help… that particular book was one of this year's best in my opinion. I hope you'll like Fear and Trembling (good idea to get it second hand – I did too at the time).

    The Stephen King book is Misery! Chances are that I might review it as a re-read; I've read Misery 3 times so far before starting this project, and will probably end up reading it again at some point. I've also read Carrie when I was younger, but as far as Stephen King goes, that's it.

    If you have recommendations, I'd be very interested to know your favorite King titles. I have been wanting to read more of his work but thing is, he's written so much, I can't see the forest through all the trees 🙂

    December 7, 2009 at 10:46 am
  • Morning Star
    Reply

    I just started Fear and Trembling. 40 pages into it!

    And I would be very glad to tell you my favorite by King…

    *Duma Key is one of his newest, just before Under the Dome (that was released this year). It's a great story – I was really hooked!

    *Bag of Bones is also amazing.

    *And of course 'IT', that is a wonderful book! You'll follow the life of the characters from childhood until they are adults when they have to get together again. I love when Stephen King writes about childhood.

    I was going to recommend Misery, that I really liked and was the first one I read but since you already read it 🙂

    December 7, 2009 at 2:24 pm

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