What novel has had the greatest impact on your life?
When I was twelve, my mother bought me a mystery novel, Kiganjo, about a French gentleman robber named Lupin. It was a long series of books, translated from French to Japanese, about a handsome, dashing nobleman, a genius at disguises, who went around solving mysteries, robbing rich bad guys, and helping people.
At the time, I couldn’t read much Japanese (the 100 letters of the alphabet and about 100 kanji). It took me several hours to read the first couple pages, but I was drawn into the story. I read the book for hours and hours every day, looking up every word I couldn’t read, which was about every other word. By the end of the week, I finished reading my first â€œrealâ€?Ebook in Japanese and had fallen completely in love with Lupin. I begged her to buy the next book, read it in about 3 days, and the next, and the next. By the time I finished about 20, I was reading one volume a day, starting in the morning, and finishing it in the evening. (I was able to do this because I didn’t do any formal study for about 4 years, but that’s a different story.)
For a while, my Japanese vocabulary was very unbalanced. I didn’t know how to say the most basic everyday things, but I did know how to describe how a person could be bludgeoned to death in a secret underground passage under ancient castle ruins.
Mama and Papa realized they would be buying a book a day for who knew how long, and we just moved to a new place near a library, so I began an intense relationship with the mystery section at the library. Over the next year and a half, I read at least one mystery a day, and finished reading the entire section (over 400 books), learning about 2500 kanji. I kept going back to my favourite character, Lupin, and ended up reading through the 36-volume series three times. Nancy Drew, Frank and Joe Hardy, Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Miss Marple, Ellery Queen, Lord Peter Wimsey, and many other characters, I read and loved in Japanese.
Ack. I feel silly that the novel that probably worked the greatest change on my life was a kiddy mystery novel: I learned a whole language.
In the last few years, the novels that have hit hardest and made me think through things the most are by Dostoevski: Crime and Punishment, Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, The Possessed â€¦ but they haven’t changed made any drastic life changes.