‘A Little Life’ (Hanya Yanagihara) Review: Humanity’s Beauty Amidst Depravity

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Humanity’s Beauty Amidst Depravity
(Spoiler Free) Review of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Out of the 3,000 or so books I’ve read in my 24 years of living, never have I read a novel that has affected me this deeply. It’s the most fucked up novel I’ve ever read (I felt so sick at the halfway point of p.350 that I had to stop reading and couldn’t pick it up again for 3 weeks)… and also the most beautiful.

Chronicling the lives of four friends in New York—Willem, JB, Malcolm and Jude, the last being the central character—we witness their lives from college to old age. It’s also deftly interspersed with flashbacks from Jude’s dark (an understatement) past which is revealed gradually and painfully over the 720 pages that make up Hanya Yanagihara’s brilliantly written tome and masterpiece.

If I had to describe A Little Life in one word: DEPRAVITY. Hanya doesn’t shy away from portraying the depravity of humans, rather detailing every abominable act relentlessly—and this comprises 95% of the novel. I kept getting angry, upset, even nauseous, over and over and over. So why did I keep reading? What made me persist?

Because of the other 5%. Because of its belief (albeit wavering) in the beauty of humanity. Because Hanya clearly believes in the saving power of love in the face of utter hopelessness and desolation. Because the love showered unconditionally upon Jude by his friends, especially Willem, reflects a pure and sacrificial love that is close to the truth. Because no matter how irrational it may be, no matter how little we understand why and how and what for, it’s worth living, worth fighting to live, even when logically it makes complete sense to die, to end our lives. Because even at the end of the fight (even if only slightly), there’s even a chance at redemption (even if only pretension).

Depicting such extreme and horrific realities doesn’t allow for a neutral response. The world is fucked up: this is unambiguously laid out and instinctively comprehended. We all differ in our understanding of what is “right” and what is “wrong” on the spectrum, but A Little Life produces a unanimous: ‘this is SO WRONG’. Thus explains the backlash and controversy, but also its unabashed acclaim: the former readers must have had their buttons pushed in a discomforting manner, while the latter were led to head in the opposite direction towards hope (which though faint is naturally magnified by our innate desire for grace and salvation). Either way, every reader is forced to confront the presented reality and make a response. And whatever our beliefs, whatever our stance on life, I find that the majority of us will discover we’re too damn stubborn on continuing to live to give up or succumb to despair, because we want to believe that somehow, in some way, life is beautiful.

I cannot lightheartedly recommend this novel to everyone. In fact, there are many to whom I wouldn’t recommend it at all. I give you ample warning: this is not an easy read. But at the end of the day, I’ll also say it’s worth reading, and that I wholeheartedly recommend A Little Life, that is, only if you’re ready to face life’s toughest realities and deepest questions.

Disclaimer: this book is sure to change your life, as it did mine.

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New Publications (Competition Winner: ‘Dunelm War’)

I sincerely apologise for my silence last month, during which I wrote not a single blog post. I won’t make too many excuses (such as finishing up my last 2 essays and revising for my 3 final exams this month) and hope you don’t hold it against me. I’ve had several exciting publications recently though, including one that won a writing competition, which I’d like to share with you all!

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1. My short story ‘Dunelm War‘ won the literary magazine From the Lighthouse 2014 inaugural writing competition (short fiction)!

From the Lighthouse is Durham University English Society’s new literary magazine ‘looking for work either from, about, featuring, or carrying a sentiment of, Durham and the North East.’ They launched a writing competition last November based on this theme and so ‘Dunelm War’ was written then. I have to say, out of all my stories I’ve written so far, I had the most fun writing this! The premise is this: What would happen if a no-holds-barred civil war broke out in the lovely city of Durham?

Here are the first 2 sentences:

Tim, a third year anthropologist, pushed Old Man John over the side of Elvet Bridge into the river. For the locals of Durham, this proved to be the final straw; there remained only one path, and that was the one to war.

Needless to say, I didn’t relent and went all out, creating a caricature of university life and utilising every stereotype I could think of. Even good old Bill Bryson makes a cameo appearance.

There’s something deeply satisfying in writing something purely for my own entertainment, and it’s an added bonus when it’s approved by others! My editors thoroughly enjoyed it, one even calling it one of his favourites of mine so far and remarking ‘you really have a thing for satire.’ (Thanks, J-Love.)

And I’m presuming the judges enjoyed it too since they awarded it 1st place! Judges were: Kelly Falconer (founder of Asia Literary Agency), Lauren Owen (author of The Quick), John Challis (award-winning poet). Many thanks to them all.

Enjoy this satirical tale concerning the ‘town vs gown’ issue—have a read, let me know what you think and please share!

~

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2. My flash fiction piece ‘The Girl by the Lake‘ was reprinted in an anthology entitled Reverberations!

Originally posted on my blog in August 2014, then subsequently published by The Bubble in October, ‘The Girl by the Lake’ has now made its 3rd appearance in an anthology created and edited by Pegah Moradi and Stella Elena Alexandrova, which I unexpectedly found in my Hatfield College pigeonhole one fine day!

It’s always a pleasant surprise to see my work in print and am grateful to the editors for choosing my story. ‘The Girl by the Lake’ opens the anthology, setting the tone for the other stories/poems divided into sections including identity, loss, humour and love.

Stella Elena Alexandrova wrote a lovely narrative intro to my piece:

I walk to get lost.

For most people walking is a tool, a way to get from point A to point B; for me it’s an escape. For those blissful minutes, those hours, I can be a world away. I can relive every moment of joy and forget every second of sorrow.

I walk to get lost.

But sometimes that is the furthest thing from what happens. Instead, I find that I am found. Instead, when I stand there to lose myself, I see someone being found.

I see a girl by a lake…

Who is this girl by the lake? Well, you’ll just have to read it to find out.

~

family matters

3. My essay/memoir ‘A Masquerading Outsider’ was published in Family Matters: Stories of God’s faithfulness to children in OMF!

My parents belong to OMF International, an interdenominational Protestant missionary organisation based in East Asia. I was asked to write an account of my own experiences as a TCK regarding the various identity crises I went through for ‘an anthology of stories focused on family life in cross-cultural contexts.’

Essentially, it’s an updated and much more detailed version of my essay ‘TCKs: Children of the World‘ published by Japan Harvest back in 2012. It contains a lot more personal anecdotes and unrepressed thoughts. To be fair, my thoughts and feelings have progressed and evolved since writing this piece more than a year ago, but it’s a pretty accurate depiction of what I went through and how I felt.

I talk about how ‘I will always be a masquerading outsider’ in Japan; how ‘I subconsciously want the politeness of the Japanese, the racial integration of Singaporeans, the friendliness of Americans, the table manners of the British, etc., to be present in one society’ despite knowing it to be an impossibility (you were supposed to laugh); but ultimately realising that the ‘entire earth is my stage’ and thus ‘I am now a vagabond at peace.’ (<- *ahem* blog title *ahem*)

If you’re interested in getting to know me and my life story better, and somehow manage to get hold of a copy, do have a read and let me know what you think!

~

4. I’ve also been doing some freelance writing since December, 2 of which you can read here if you’re interested (I know, it’s random):

~

As I look forward to graduating in June, I have ambitious plans and goals for my writing. Once my degree is finished, I can finally begin writing my first novel! Also, I have some exciting news coming up this summer so stay tuned for… a new literary magazine?!

Recommended Reading (4)

I am aware that I haven’t posted any fiction pieces recently, save several Twitter fiction pieces back in December. It’s not that I don’t want to—I have been writing new short stories, but I’ve submitted all of them to various literary magazines. Hopefully, fingers crossed, I can subsequently post links to my published stories if accepted; so until then, please be patient and enjoy the stories I’ve previously posted!

So for want of fiction on my blog, I’ll be recommending two stories—one short and one long—both peculiar yet undeniably intriguing in their own ways.

1. ‘The Letter‘ by Luke Gittos (20 November 2014 / fiction)

‘I want to sex you. Sex me?’

So begins Luke Gittos’s story of a mother’s disorientating encounter with the reality of adolescence. Sharp and astute, this witty piece made me chuckle while keeping me in suspense, all in the span of a mere 500+ words. Some of the run-on sentences (one of them lasting a stellar 9-lines) are just brilliant. Being so short, it’s understandably difficult to talk about in detail without giving anything away. But then again, it’s only 500+ words—what are you waiting for? Read and be amused, be entertained, be impressed by an ingenious concept well-delivered.

About the author: Luke Gittos is law editor at spiked (Britain’s first online-only current-affairs magazine), a solicitor practising criminal law and convenor of the London Legal Salon.

2. ‘Kilifi Creek‘ by Lionel Shriver (25 November 2013 / fiction)

© Eric Ogden / Trunk

© Eric Ogden / Trunk

Winner of the BBC National Short Story Award 2014, this short story about a gap-year traveller’s near-death experience in a Kenyan river won £15,000. Yes, you heard me right. A short story won £15,000. W-what?

Is Shriver’s story that good? Hmm, arguably, not really. Some adjectives that could be used to describe it: pretentious, overindulgent, turgid, etc. all of which, to a certain extent, I agree with. But there’s something about ‘Kilifi Creek’, particularly the ending (which obviously I won’t give away), which caused it to linger in my mind long afterwards.

As Liana reflects on her near-death experience, she considers possible reasons for her survival, as well as lessons she might have learned:

Oh, she’d considered the episode, and felt free to conclude that she had overestimated her swimming ability, or underestimated the insidious, bigger-than-you powers of water. She could also sensibly have decided that swimming alone anywhere was tempting fate. She might have concocted a loftier version, wherein she had been rescued by an almighty presence who had grand plans for her—grander than marketing. But that wasn’t it.

She admits all of these interpretations would merely have been ‘plastered on top’ what was really important:

The message was bigger and dumber and blunter than that, and she was a bright woman, with no desire to disguise it.

Yet she still seemingly does.

So what is this message? Liana later reflects:

At some point there was no almost. That had always been the message.

Beneath the façade of Shriver’s grandiloquent prose is a poignant and affecting (though understandably reluctant) reflection on the nature of life: that life is short, life is unexpected, life is entirely frail and fragile and liable to crumble, or even cease, at any moment in time. We have the tendency to overshadow the difficulties of biting reality by keeping our minds busy, constantly occupied with other things—but life’s vulnerability remains, always, underlying, brooding, waiting, waiting.

The question then is: what will we do, or rather what are we to do, when being unable to run any farther, are forced to face life-changing (in all senses of that word) situations?

About the author: Lionel Shriver is an American author of 11 novels, including the acclaimed We Need to Talk About Kevin, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005.

New Publications (Seasonal Twitter Fiction)

7x20_57×20 has published 2 of my Twitter fiction pieces once again! (For those who have no clue as to what I’m going on about, check out my post for an explanation: ‘Twitter Fiction‘)

4 times a year, 7×20 holds a competition for season-themed Twitter fiction and poetry. Previously, I had won the #7x20spring competition with the following (receiving the most votes, aka number of likes and retweets):

I submitted the following to the #7x20summer competition in September and narrowly missed out (runner-up). 7×20 published it yesterday:

And most recently, I submitted the following to the #7x20fall competition in November, which unfortunately didn’t receive enough submissions to make it to the voting round. Nevertheless, 7×20 kindly published it today:

Writing Twitter fiction is difficult and requires a lot more effort than you might think. Being limited by 140 characters doesn’t give you the luxury of using several hundred or thousand words (short stories and the like) to express freely your creativity. Each word must be chosen painstakingly. Even the seemingly minute difference between ‘a’ and ‘the’ can change the nuances contained within the story and affect how it comes across to readers.

But of course, the beauty of Twitter fiction is just like any form of literature—and arguably more so because of its emphasis on the unspoken more than the spoken—it is open to multiple forms of interpretations. Read them as you will!

You might have noticed that all 3 Twitter fiction stories above are quite depressing. In fact, someone remarked to me: ‘All of your stories seem pretty dark. Some brighter/lighter pieces too?‘ But actually, it’s a lot more difficult to write something happy than not-so-happy. I wonder why? Maybe because people find it easier to relate to hardships and sufferings and heartbreaks more so than joyful and blissful moments? I’m still thinking this one through—let me know if you have any good explanations.

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A haiku by Matsuo Bashō, the greatest haiku master.

Although I’ve submitted and had several Twitter fiction pieces published by 7×20 over this past year (you can check out the full list of 11 stories here: ‘Publications‘), I’ve most proud of the ones I’ve written for the seasonal competitions. I wondered why that was so, that is, until I realised I had grown up in Japan where I frequently came into contact with haiku (traditional form of Japanese poetry, usually 17 syllables). Haiku is usually written with nature as its subject, which might explain the natural inclination I have towards writing Twitter fiction—which in its own way could also be considered a type of poetry—centred around seasonal themes. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I wasn’t the only one who made this connection between Twitter fiction and haiku: my good friend Remi Yamazaki also caught on to the similarities in an article she wrote entitled ‘How Twitter Is Making English Better‘.

I personally feel that it’s wholly unfortunate Twitter fiction is still such a highly neglected form of writing. Many famous authors (e.g. David Mitchell’s short story published entirely on TwitterThe Right Sort‘, Neil Gaiman & Twitterverse’s story-cum-audiobook ‘Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry‘, Teju Cole’s short story published on Twitter by retweeting 31 people’s tweetsHafiz‘, etc.) have tried their hand at writing literature using the Twitter medium, to fascinating and gripping results. I do hope it’ll catch on and people will begin comprehending the endless possibilities of fiction or poetry writing using Twitter.

I’ll end with a quote from Teju Cole in his interview with NPR (‘Teju Cole Writes A Story A Tweet At A Time‘) about ‘On using Twitter to tell stories’:

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© The Lavin Agency Ltd.

What interests me is polished language, language that one has worked on. The way that it can work inside this medium where a lot of the language that you’re seeing is not carefully considered. And then you put these very clean, simple sentences out there, and people think, “Oh, that’s having some kind of strange effect on me, but I’m not sure why.”

But you as a writer know that it’s because you have quite carefully thought about the placement of your commas, and about your word choice, and about using simple words, and about using slightly unusual grammar, or that sort of thing. Basically the same way that you would have an effect on your reader if you were writing an article for Harpers or The Atlantic or if you were publishing a novel.

Why not have a go at writing your own Twitter story or poem?

Recommended Reading (2)

Here’s my second recommended reading post! (Here’s the first: ‘Recommended Reading (1)‘.)

I’ll be introducing 2 pieces today: one poem and one personal reflection piece. Enjoy!

1. ‘Free Verse Poem: Emiri‘ by Stacia Reaching Up (10 November 2014 / fiction)

© Stacia and Stacia Reaching Up, 2013.

© Stacia and Stacia Reaching Up, 2013.

I am Emiri,
Just until the moment I am not. I think,
Pinching folds in my kippu as I wait
Behind the yellow line that whispers, ‘Danger.’

Dark walls fold overhead like a curled tongue,
Leaving a gap open to the sky above the tracks.
Rain rushes between the slit with such urgency,
Hitting the ground as though surprised
To be barred from passing through to Yomi-no-Kuni.

Sometimes I forget
That there were happy days
Before I was alone.

I imagine ghosts
Watching from the cave-like indentations beneath the platforms
Waiting to devour those seeking escape
In the case of an accidental fall,
Or a last-minute change of heart.

I catch the shriek of the train
And relax as a cold wind nudges me from behind.
Counting down
The ways of living
Days of dying—
My blue dress dances in the greying light.

I am Emiri.

Just until the moment,
I am not.

*kippu, a train ticket
*Yomi-no-Kuni, the Japanese mythological Underworld

© Stacia and Stacia Reaching Up, 2013.

In Japan, it’s always tragic when a person commits suicide by jumping in front of a train. It’s even more tragic when it’s entirely expected, a habitual occurrence, another reason to cluck your tongue in utter annoyance at your train being delayed on the way to work. For those familiar and in constant contact with this ill-fated phenomenon—have any of you ever stopped to think about what is running through the mind of the person about to jump? I haven’t, to be honest, that is, until I read Stacia’s haunting and disturbing poem, that rather than just being wholly despairing, paints a different picture—one that is much more complex than we might expect from someone set on ending their life.

That particular mid-section is, to me, the most poignant moment of the entire poem:

Sometimes I forget
That there were happy days
Before I was alone.

If these are indeed Emiri’s thoughts seconds before her death, there is something heartbreaking about the fact that as much as she yearns for a definite closure to her life, her current present, however short-lived it may be, is undeniably overshadowed by her past, which she has tried so hard to run away from. Notice how ‘Sometimes I forget / That there were happy days’ doesn’t mean she’s completely forgotten her past; on the contrary, she cannot forget her past precisely because of those once-happy days which ironically haunt her for the rest of her life.

The genius of these particular 3 lines is the lack of punctuation, leaving it open to multiple interpretations. Initially, you can read it straightforwardly as it is: ‘Sometimes I forget that there were happy days before I was alone.’ Emiri is looking back and reminding herself of the days of happiness she experienced before her subsequent solitude.

But if you were to add commas and full stops, you could also read it like this: ‘Sometimes I forget that there were happy days. Before, I was alone.’ The last line is said even more emphatically, the gravity of her loneliness weighing upon both her and us.

Even more radical: ‘Sometimes I forget that. There were happy days before. I was alone.’ What does she mean by ‘that’? There were happy days… before what? Was she alone in the past, but now doesn’t feel alone anymore—in fact, was she alone during her happy days, did she find happiness in solitude?

You might think I’m reading too deeply into it, but that for me is the beauty of this poem, allowing each individual the freedom to have her/his own interpretation. Again, she allows for a similar response in:

Counting down
The ways of living
Days of dying

I’ve never been particularly adept at poetry, writing and reading, but this is one poem that left a powerful impression on me.

(This ‘lack of punctuation’ technique—for lack of a better description—brings to mind Geoffrey Hill’s ‘September Song: born 19.6.32 – depoted 24.9.42‘ in which 10 words mid-poem can be interpreted in so many different ways. It’s magnificent:

(I have made
an elegy for myself it
is true)

Think that through.)

1492165_10153656322455437_379990704_oAbout the author: Stacia and I were classmates in elementary school, so the last time I saw her in person was probably more than 10 years ago. Recently, we reconnected through Facebook and were delighted to discover our mutual love for the arts. And truly, her authentic passion for writing shines through her blog, mainly through her poetry, accompanied and influenced by her hobbies of yoga, dance and photography. Enjoy the words and photos she painstakingly crafts and combines—something is bound to resonate in your heart.

2. ‘Learning to love other foreigners in Japan‘ by BradfromBradford (29 October 2014 / non-fiction)

Well done, Brad, you’ve made it on both of my recommended reading posts so far. His recent blog post documenting his thought processes and real-life experiences regarding his view of foreigners in Japan resonated deeply with my own. It’s both fascinating and amusing.

Being a white American born and grown in Japan, he’s had to deal with various issues, e.g. prejudices based solely on appearances, the distinction between ‘Japanese, Americans, foreigners in Japan like me, and foreigners in Japan not like me’, and of course, identity. For me, being Asian-looking has allowed me to play shiranpuri (feigned ignorance) and blend in a lot better than Brad has, but ultimately what he voices all ring true for me as well. A must-read for anyone interested in Japan—whether you’re just curious about the life of a foreigner in Japan or whether you yourself are planning to visit/migrate/live there.

Here are a few of my favourite passages. Brad talks about using the word gaikokujin or gaijin (used to describe ‘foreigners’ but literally meaning ‘outsider’) and how it differs when referring to us (Brad, me, the rest of us who are technically foreigners but grew up in Japan) and them (foreigners not from Japan):

On the surface, we used the same word: gaikokujin or gaijin. It was what we were known to the Japanese as, it was what we felt like when we went back to America or wherever we were ‘from’. We adopted it as our label, almost like a nationality. Gaijin. Outsider, but not. Insider, but not.

When used of those who hadn’t been in Japan so long, however, it was less reverential. Outsider, and probably proud of it. Someone who would never understand. A constant risk of embarrassment by association. A too-loud train talker.

In the following, Brad relates the realisation that his attitude and behaviour had been (in his own words) ‘despicable’, ‘hypocritical’, ‘betrayal’:

Culture by definition includes cues on who is in and who is out, and Japan is only one of many places where these cues are loud and clear. According to these cues, I am out. Or at least, I am the fringe. The periphery.

And so while people like me, examples of the imperfect nature of nationality as an organizer of humanity, should be at the forefront of playing down divisions according to nationality, in many cases we are its strongest advocates.

And in good faith, Brad busts a common misconception:

Not every gaijin is here because they can’t get girlfriends or boyfriends in their ‘home’ countries.

Well, yes, not every gaijin, but some of them…

0e02648c75ff332f04b2083ebda32b66About the author: Brad and I went to the same international school in Tokyo, then both found ourselves in universities in the UK. We’ve travelled extensively together around Europe and have had many good conversations, particularly regarding our TCK identities. He blogs at BradfromBradford and is also a popular YouTube vlogger, boasting an impressive 709,000 views on his ‘Call Me Maybe in Japanese‘ video (it was 686,000 3 months ago; the view count just keeps rising every time I introduce him on my blog—oh, the price of fame).

Bottled Water

Back in February, I discovered that Litro was running a flash fiction competition on the theme of ‘environmental disaster’. Not my usual choice of topic, but I decided to give it my best shot. Problem was, I only had a night before the deadline. Plus the limit was 700 words, which really isn’t much. (Add another pathetic excuse here.) Thus it’s poorly paced – a classic example of having an elaborate beginning and eventually running out of words to use (though as a literature student, I’d argue that the succession of choppy sentences in the second half exemplify the accelerated rush of events to its denouement; but I’ll shut up now).

But I quite like the concept, and I hope it makes you think, and consider.

~

Bottled Water
by Justin Lau

glass-water‘Did you go for your health checkup?’ asked Suzuko, 37, peeling the potatoes and carrots. She dropped them into a pot of water, bottled and imported from Fukui in the south, the best in the country.

Minako, 67, tottered over to the sink with a cup, reaching for the tap and tearing off the tape on the spout end.

‘Mother!’ scolded Suzuko. ‘How many times do I have to tell you, leave that alone!’

Minako muttered but sat obediently at the kitchen table as her daughter poured a new two-litre bottle of fresh water. It swirled in her cup, sloshing about. She shut her eyes; it reminded her of the waves fifteen years ago. She took a sip and sighed. The water was good.

Suzuko dug through the drawer for an extra roll of duct tape. The tap must be sealed; no water must flow through. ‘How was your checkup?’ she asked.

Minako met her daughter’s eyes, smiling gently but also in tired resignation.

Suzuko knew and her eyes widened in fright, but she kept quiet, waiting for the verdict.

‘I have thyroid cancer,’ said Minako.

Her voice didn’t tremble as she thought it might. The words felt strange in her mouth despite having practised many times, repeating them months before the diagnosis, all in preparation. Remarkably, she felt a deep sense of calm.

Suzuko closed her eyes, slowly. Tears flowed from her clenched eyelids. Drip, drop, yet she made no sound. Her mother wasn’t groaning, why should she? She fought the desire to fly into a rage, wishing for Minako to do the same. How easy it would be, to lash out in frustration and curse in anger. But she knew it was to be taken in quiet acceptance. This was her mother’s way, and as her daughter she would respect it. They had both known it would happen; it was simply a question of when, and now they knew.

She walked over to her mother and embraced her. There would be no more sobbing between them. Minako gazed at her daughter’s aged and wrinkled face, yet still beautiful with traces of passionate vigour. She used her thumbs to wipe away Suzuko’s tears and nodded once.

Suzuko went back to her cooking.

*

‘Horrible, just horrible. Nothing has changed,’ murmured Minako as she read the newspaper headline: Fukushima Protests Escalate As Radioactive Water Continues To Leak Into The Pacific.

The two women heard a door slam, followed by stomping in the hallway. Shota and Yuta, 7 and 5, exploded into the dining room, shouting and laughing.

‘Grandma! Grandma!’ they exclaimed, running into her open arms.

‘Good boys.’ She kissed the top of their heads. ‘Go greet your mother.’

They ran and hugged her from behind.

‘Careful!’ said Suzuko as she stirred the boiling pot.

‘What’s for dinner, mum?’ asked Yuta.

‘Your favourite,’ she replied.

‘Curry! Curry! Curry!’ they chanted, dancing around the dining table.

‘Where’s Kenta?’ asked Suzuko.

Her two sons froze and began to fidget uneasily.

She turned to face them. ‘Where is your eldest brother?’

Shota opened his mouth but shut it quickly.

Minako’s eyes widened, the colour draining from her face.

Suzuko knelt down and grabbed his shoulders. ‘Shota! Answer me!’

He burst into tears and wailed. ‘He told me not to tell you *sob* but he said he was going *sob* under the fence –‘

*

Suzuko dashed out of the house wearing her radiation suit.

She ran parallel to the ten-metre-high security fence, extending along the coast as far as the eye could see. On the way, she spotted a small hole dug underneath the fence, big enough for a child to squeeze through.

She knew.

She reached the gate and cried out in desperation, ‘Please, let me through! My son is in there!’

She began pounding it with her fists but a guard in similar attire grabbed her arm. ‘Ma’am, I’m sorry but no one is allowed to pass through.’

She threw herself at him, sobbing and beating his chest. She fell to the ground, the guard also helpless.

*

The next day, 23 August 2026.

On the newspaper’s ninth page, a brief unnoticed article: Boy Takes A Fatal Swim.

© Justin Lau, 2014

New Publication (‘The Girl by the Lake’)

Firstly, I’d like to apologise for my lack of posts this past week. Ever since starting this blog 3 months ago, I’ve faithfully posted every 2 or 3 (and the occasional 4) days, but this week I was silent for 7 whole days before posting my latest ‘Japlish (not Engrish): the Tragic Gift of Bilingualism / Multilingualism‘. It won’t happen again, hopefully.

But I’d also like to explain why I had such a long hiatus (in other words, here’s my excuse). I was working very hard on the aforementioned blog post, including gathering thoughts and data from friends, which I had to compile and organise. (That’s not good enough, is it.)

Well, I was also working on a new short story which I plan to submit to a writing competition next month. One night last week, I was lying in bed when this brilliant idea came to mind and I ended up writing a couple hundred words on my iPhone immediately, then fell asleep with a huge satisfied grin on my face. The next few evenings were characterised by taking a shower, thinking of even more great ideas for the story whilst under the running water, rushing out still not completely dry and typing as fast as I could before my ideas faded, clothed only in my underwear. As I elaborated in ‘The Five Ws for Ideas and Inspiration‘, inspiration strikes at the most inconvenient of times. If that doesn’t let me off the hook, hopefully when you read my story eventually, you’ll enjoy it enough to excuse me.

I also have a request.

REQUEST: If you have any ideas for a post which you’d like me to write about, please do let me know! It can be about the writing process, international identity, language – anything, really (just not anything maths or science related, please). I’m open to any ideas or requests! That’s right, I’m requesting for requests.

lake_That’s it for today. Wait, no! Another piece of exciting news: this past Wednesday, The Bubble, an online magazine based at Durham University, kindly published my flash fiction piece ‘The Girl by the Lake‘! I previously posted it on my blog here back in August so you can read it at The Bubble or you can read it on my blog or you can read it twice, whichever you fancy. It’s nice to see a piece I first wrote 1.5 years ago finally accepted and published, especially since I’m particularly fond of this one; it gives me the feels.

Oh, and the clocks were turned back an hour this morning at 2 am – I can never tell if my iPhone adjusts automatically. If you can relate to this, you should definitely check out my short story about time: ‘Seiko’s Minor God‘. (That was my clever way of plugging my other short story in as natural a manner as possible.)

2 publications in a month, not bad, not bad.

I’m very and truly thankful for each and every one of you who has taken the time to read my blog or my stories. It’s always a delight for someone to come up to me in person and remark that s/he’s been enjoying my blog. Thanks to all of my readers!