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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Amelie Nothomb's, "Fear and Trembling"

This little novel won France's prestigious Grand Prix de l'Academie Francaise and the Prix Internet du Livre awards. Nothomb, a Belgian writer, achieves on many levels with this fictional work. The novel reads like an incisive look at corporate culture in Japan with a crash course on the inscrutable Japanese mindset. With the protagonist sharing the author's first name and other similarities, the book immediately imparts a closed-door intimacy akin to an autobiography. As a little helper in the Import-Export division of the Yumimoto Corporation, Amelie wreaks accidental havoc from scene to scene like a silent movie comedian; only her turmoil is all emotional.

In the peculiar way Amelie laughs at her misfortune her blunders that lead to harsh retributions somehow come off as tragicomic. Complicating further her situation is Amelie's unrequited crush on her unflappable boss, Fubuki. The more Amelie tries to impress Fubuki, the worse things get for both. The ambivalent Japanese business structure seems to reprimand initiative and honor submission to defeatist rigmaroles. Yet Amelie marches on like a love-sick Sisyphus through her constant reassignments which are apparent demotions. The end of the novel is affecting and satisfying without any melodrama.

Nothomb's flair for the language is apparent in every page. The shifts in style from observant prose to abstract thoughts or lucid feelings are flawless, as is the tone that accommodates whimsy, elegance, sarcasm, and romance in arbitrary turns. I have already begun shopping for her other books. You should at least try this one.

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