Reading Sweet Bean Paste and making dorayaki #weekendcooking

The title of the book – and the writer’s name (Durian? As in like the fruit? Or does it have some other meaning?)- was what attracted me at first, as well as the lovely color scheme of the cover.

And what a poignant and moving story this was.

It’s an odd couple kind of story. An ex-con working at a dorayaki shop to pay his debts and a 76-year-old woman with gnarled hands who asks him for a job at the shop, offering to teach him her recipe for sweet bean paste, which she says she’s been making for fifty years.

(Dorayaki is a Japanese confectionary with sweet red bean paste sandwiched between two small pancakes.)

Sentaro doesn’t want to hire her at first, even though she offers to accept a lower pay. But it turns out that Tokue makes amazing sweet bean paste.

“Unlike the ready-made paste, this was the smell of fresh, living beans. It has depth. It had life. A mellow, sweet taste unfurled inside Sentaro’s mouth.”

Sentaro had been using a commercially-made paste which isn’t exactly the best. He’s been pretty much grudgingly doing his work every day, it’s more about paying off his debt than anything else.

But after he hires her, business begins to improve. And Sentaro starts to be more interested in the making of dorayaki. They experiment with beans from different countries. And since Tokue doesn’t work every day, Sentaro begins to make the paste himself.

However word soon gets out – to the customers, to the shop owner – that there may be something wrong with Tokue. People stay away from the shop, the owner wants Sentaro to get rid of her. But how can he?

Sweet Bean Paste is a story about loneliness, about prejudice, about two outsiders who become unlikely friends. I loved how the focus was just on a few characters and the friendships that developed among them.

And oh, the changing of the seasons, especially with all the cherry blossoms!

“Blossom surrounds him on all sides, as if he is at the centre of a deep, sparkling lake. He senses the full force of emotion that has been dormant in the trees all year, waiting for this once-a-year explosion of joy: their pure, unadulterated happiness.”

And most of all, this book will make you long for a taste of dorayaki. Or maybe you’ll be tempted to try to make your own!

And that was exactly what I did.

One thing I like to pick up when we visit Japanese supermarkets is dorayaki. I especially love the dorayaki with chestnuts in them. I’ve never thought to make them! But I was really inspired by the book and just wanted to try making my own.

I found this recipe from Just One Cookbook and hey, I had all the ingredients in my kitchen. I had also seen a couple of recipes like this one from Chopstick Chronicles which added a teaspoon of mirin or sweet rice wine so I added that too.

So we made it just yesterday, a rainy Friday after school.

It was a nice treat for all of us, as we have all been catching coughs and colds one after another these past few weeks.

The recipe was easy enough and didn’t require any special equipment besides a whisk. The kids took turns cracking and beating the eggs, adding ingredients.

And they stood by the stove and watched for bubbles. And soon became quite good at spotting when it was time to turn the pancake. It needs about 1.5 minutes or so on the first side.

 

The pancake batter has both sugar and honey in it. So it does brown quite a bit.

 

I didn’t have adzuki beans on hand but I did luckily have this tin of red bean paste or anko.

Tada! Freshly made dorayaki. So good!

I’ll have to try making the red bean paste myself another time but for now, this was great!

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

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Salvation of a Saint – Keigo Higashino

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Sometimes, it’s as important to prove there is no answer to a question as it is to answer it.’

Having read two Higashino books in these recent months, I cannot help but marvel at how he keeps the reader, well, reading.

Especially with a detective/crime story that is so quiet and relatively uneventful compared to many others out there which are more action packed. That makes it sound like nothing happens in this book but that is not true.

There is a death. A man is dead, poisoned by arsenous acid, likely something he drank in his coffee. A woman, his wife’s employee, is the one who found him. His wife Ayane is the main suspect – her husband had told her that he was leaving her for another woman – but she was hundreds of miles away at the time. What about Hiromi, the one who found him? It’s a locked-room mystery and Tokyo Police Detective Kusanagi is on the case. But he is smitten with Ayane, and unable to believe that she has anything to do with her husband’s death. His assistant, Kaoru Utsumi, believes otherwise. And so, she seeks the help of Professor Manabu Yukawa, a physicist whom Kusanagi often ropes in to help out, except now the two of them seem to have had a bit of a quarrel.

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It’s one of those crime stories where possibilities are tossed around, then shot down. Compared to other crime cases, this one seems rather simple. A man poisoned. And you pretty much know who did it, but the how is really just something you try to puzzle out, along with the detectives on the case.

Salvation of a Saint is a far quieter story than the last Higashino I read, Under the Midnight Sun. But I enjoyed it for its intriguing details, its puzzle of a crime and the way Higashino’s ‘villains’ are often themselves victims.

The thing with reading translated works is having to wait for translations to emerge from publishers. This series with Kusanagi and Yukawa is known as the Detective Galileo series. The Devotion of Suspect X (a very good read) is the first in the series, Salvation of a Saint is the second. The third book, A Midsummer’s Equation, (published in 2011) was just released in English earlier this year. It is really confusing! The Devotion of Suspect X is book 3 in the series, but Salvation of a Saint is book 5, A Midsummer’s Equation is book 6. At least according to Goodreads. But when I check Wikipedia I realize that some of the books are classified as short stories, so book 4 (which I now guess to be in terms of publishing order) is a short story, so perhaps that is why the English language publishers decided to skip it? Confused! Also, disappointed! I would love to read his short stories too. Higashino also has another series called the Detective Kaga series, but so far only one of those has been translated into English, called Malice. And once again, the English language publisher has picked a book in the middle of the series, in publishing order, this is book number 4. As I cannot read Japanese, I am at the mercy of publishers who would be willing to have his work translated!

Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan

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While not as well-rounded as Beauty is A Wound (my thoughts), Man Tiger, first published in 2004, is a great introduction to Eka Kurniawan and Indonesian literature. After all, it tops out at 172 pages, versus Beauty is a Wound (first published in 2002) which has 470 pages.

Man Tiger is not so much a whodunnit as a whydunnit. There is a murder. A man in a small village has been killed. Everyone knows that it was Margio, who insists:

“It wasn’t me,” he said calmly and without guilt. “There is a tiger inside my body.”

There are a lot of mystical elements to the story, which is told in a cyclical, rather conversational manner (perhaps in the Indonesian storytelling fashion?). But this is also a story about an ill-matched relationship, a couple who are constantly at loggerheads, a broken family.

Man Tiger could be described as crime fiction, maybe magic realism (although when I see those two words, I tend to flee from the book, so scratch that), domestic fiction? I don’t know, I guess the easy way out would be to file it under ‘translated fiction’ as it doesn’t really seem to fit into any proper genre. But if you’re looking for a different, diverse, translated read, one that’s quick, one that’s different, and yet also gory (you should see the way Margio kills the man), passionate, and just completely apt for autumn (i.e. ripe for any Readers Imbibing in Peril, or just up for a weird read).

If you’re interested in reading more from Indonesian writers, may I suggest The Girl from the Coast by Pramoedya Ananta Toer (my thoughts)

Some things you might not know about Indonesia.

  • It’s the world’s fourth most populous nation with some 261 million people speaking over 580 languages and dialects.The main language is Bahasa Indonesia
  • It’s made up of 17,000 islands and some 130 active volcanoes

 

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I read this book for Readers Imbibing in Peril XI

(here’s the link to the review site)

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Akilah’s Diversity on the Shelf 

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 Read Diverse Books Year-Round

F is for Ferrante, Ferrante is Fabulous

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I read this book in three days. Mostly because it was due back at the library and I couldn’t renew it as some other Ferrante fan was waiting for it. Or at least someone had it on hold and I’m guessing that person is a Ferrante fan because this book is the second in the series.

And really there ought to be more Ferrante fans in the world.

Or at least in the bookish parts of the world.

Because Ferrante is…

Fabulous
Her series is set in a small town in Naples and tells of a friendship between two women, Lenu and Lila. The first book in the series, My Brilliant Friend (my thoughts), talks about their childhood. And in this second book, the story continues through their young adult years. She completely absorbs the reader in their lives, in their friendship, in their emotions and their world. It is engaging, compelling, and all those other ‘-ing’ words that publishers splatter on book covers to entice readers to pick up a book. She is quite simply fabulous.

Ferocious
Her characters are full of life. They run through a gamut of emotions as their relationships takes dramatic twists and turns. This is not a quiet book, despite its rather subdued cover. It is bursting with colour and vivacity, with the smells and tastes and sights of life in Naples.

Friendly
And by that I mean that her writing is easy to read. Nothing overwrought or overwritten. Of course I possibly mean that her translator’s translation is easy to read.

Finalist
Well, sort of, in that the third book in her Neapolitan series, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, has been shortlisted for the 2015 Tournament of Books

Fascinatingly Furtive
Elena Ferrante is not her real name. She’s never been photographed or interviewed in person and has apparently never made a public appearance. Who is she? No one seems to know. Or at least those who are in the know don’t seem to want to let the rest of us know.

She explains in an email interview with the New York Times:

“If I may, I didn’t choose anonymity; the books are signed. Instead, I chose absence. More than 20 years ago I felt the burden of exposing myself in public. I wanted to detach myself from the finished story. I wanted the books to assert themselves without my patronage.”

Well, whoever Ferrante really is, whatever her name really is, I’m all in! As the Boston Globe put it:

 “Everyone should read anything with Ferrante’s name on it.”

I second that!

 

 

Bibliography

L’amore molesto (1992; English translation: Troubling Love, 2006)
I giorni dell’abbandono (2002; English translation: The Days of Abandonment, 2005)
La frantumaglia (2003; English translation Fragments, 2013)[9]
La figlia oscura (2006; English translation: The Lost Daughter, 2008)
Ayaam Al-Hijraan (2007)
La spiaggia di notte (2007)
L’amica geniale (2011; English translation: My Brilliant Friend, 2012)
Storia del nuovo cognome, L’amica geniale volume 2 (2012; English translation: The Story of a New Name, 2013)
Storia di chi fugge e di chi resta, L’amica geniale volume 3 (2013; English translation: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, 2014)
Storia della bambina perduta, L’amica geniale volume 4 (2014; English translation: The Story of the Lost Child, 2015)
(untitled), L’amica geniale volume 5 (2015)
2015 Translation

This is the second book I read for the Books in Translation Reading Challenge

Who Ate Up All the Shinga? by Park Wan-Suh

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Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute publishes books! And such interesting ones too! Weatherhead Books on Asia includes books by Natsume Soseki, Zhu Wen, Abe KĹŤbĹŤ and more. As well as one of my all-time favourite books, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Wang Anyi (my thoughts).

I hadn’t heard of Park Wan-Suh before browsing their catalogue. My knowledge of Korean authors is a bit limited, but I have read books by Shin Kyung-Sook (I’ll Be Right There and Please Look After Mom), and the Color Trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa, a comic series. There might be one or two more but that’s all I can recall at the moment!

But I haven’t come across any non-fiction reads from Korean authors. So I jumped at the chance to read this one!

Who Ate Up all the Shinga? is such a charming book. Park has a very personable tone to her writing. And it kind of reminded me a little of another favourite book in translation, Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, Chihiro Iwasaki (Illustrator), Dorothy Britton (Translator). Tott0-chan’s story sticks to her early childhood years and focuses on this very fascinating school life she had in pre-WWII Tokyo. Park’s story begins with childhood but she goes on to tell us about her teenaged years as well.

It is an account first of her childhood in a rural village with less than twenty households in the 1930s. She has a grandfather who dotes on her, the only granddaughter. And this grandfather of hers tries to uphold the image of their family as “aristocracy” although that’s not entirely the situation. Plus it’s also a bit odd as their village is such a tiny one.

I am utterly fascinated by how the kids amused themselves. From making dolls out of grass, “noodles” out of pine needles, catching dragonflies and shrimp! It is such a gentle, idyllic life.

“We were part of nature, and because nature is alive, changing, in motion, not resting a single moment, we had no time to be bored.”

Her mother was determined to raise her and her older brother in Seoul, and when Wan-Suh turns seven, they move to Seoul for school, where she first discovers what city life is like. Korea is still occupied by the Japanese and Wan-Suh is made to learn Japanese in school.

Partly because her mother discourages her from playing with the neighbourhood kids, and partly because her classmates disdain her for being a country girl, Wan-Suh’s life in Seoul isn’t a joyful one. And she was thrilled to return to the village for summer.

“All day long, you’re going to be stuck in alleyways, playing marbles or skipping rope. The best treat you’ll have are the snacks you get by begging one chon at a time off the grownups. Meanwhile, I’ll be jumping around in the country like a puppy. Everything there is alive and breathing and moving around in the breeze. Tomorrow, I’m going to get to climb up hills and walk through fields and splash in streams. I’m going to get to breathe in air that’s got the smell of grass the wild flowers and soil.”

On another level, this is a story about a relationship between mother and daughter. Not entirely a happy peaceful one as her mother is quite a character. She’s rather demanding and determined, and was relatively educated at a time when women typically were not, especially those who were from the country. The account of her haggling with a porter to carry their bags when they first arrive in Seoul is quite hilarious. She is incredibly thrifty and hardworking, and yet at times, rather extravagant.

But her mother’s determination to have her children study in Seoul seems to pay off and their family does well, that is, until the Japanese leave Korea and things fall apart all around them.

It is a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse at life in Korea during the Japanese occupation and its aftermath. And while that may sound like a difficult period to be reading about, Park’s friendly, confessional tone, and her family’s moving story will capture your imagination and your heart.

 

Park Wan Suh was born in 1931 in Gaepung-gun in what is now Hwanghaebuk-do in North Korea. Park entered Seoul National University, the most prestigious in Korea, but dropped out almost immediately after attending classes due to the outbreak of the Korean War and the death of her brothparkwansuher. During the war, Park was separated from her mother and elder brother by the North Korea army, which moved them to North Korea. She lived in the village of Achui, in Guri, outside Seoul until her death. Park died on the morning of January 22, 2011, suffering from cancer.

Park wrote her first book just before she turned 40, and went on to write 20-odd novels and more than 100 short stories, winning prestigious Korean literature awards along the way. 

Works in translation
My Very Last Possession: And Other Stories
The Red Room: Stories of Trauma in Contemporary Korea
Sketch of the Fading Sun
Three Days in That Autumn
Weathered Blossom (Modern Korean Short Stories)
Who Ate Up All the Shinga?: An Autobiographical Novel

2015 Translation

 

This is the first book I read for the Books in Translation Reading Challenge

Books in Translation Reading Challenge

2015 Translation

Books in Translation Challenge

I’m going for:

Conversationalist: 4-6 books

 

Pool:

 

1Q84 – Haruki Murakami (translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel

Last Winter We Parted – Fuminori Nakamura (translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell)

Malice – Keigo Higashino (translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith)

The Road to Redemption – Su Tong, (translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt)

The Seventh Day – Yu Hua (translated from the Chinese by Allan H. Barr)

The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai – Bangqing Han (first translated from the Chinese by Eileen Chang, revised and edited by Eva Hung)

Post Office Girl – Stefan Zweig (translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg)

On a Day Like This – Peter Stamm (translated from the German by Michael Hofmann)

Who Ate Up All the Shinga?: An Autobiographical Novel – Yu Young-nan (translated from the Korean by Stephen Epstein and Wan-suh Park)

Story of a new name – Elena Ferrante (translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein)

(and more to come!)

What are some of your recent translated reads?