TITLE: How Do You Live
BY: Genzaburo Yushino, TRANSLATED BY: Bruno Navasky, FOREWORD BY: Neil Gaiman
GENRE: Childrens, Middle Grade, Classic, Japanese Literature
PUBLICATION: October 26, 2021 (first published: 1937)
HOW DO YOU LIVE? begins with fifteen-year-old Copper, who has recently suffered the loss of his father, gazing out over his hometown of Tokyo, watching the thousands of people below, and beginning to ponder life’s big questions. How many people are in the world? What do their lives look like? Are humans really made of molecules? The book moves between Copper’s story and his uncle’s journal entries, in which he gives advice and helps Copper learn pivotal truths about the way the world works. Over the course of a year in his life, Copper, like his namesake Copernicus, embarks on a journey of philosophical enlightenment, and uses his discoveries about the heavens, earth and human nature to determine the best way to live. Yoshino perfectly captures the beauty and strangeness of pre-war Japan – the changing of the seasons, the fried tofu and taiyaki stands, and the lush landscapes, as Copper explores the city on his bike and learns from friends and family what really matters most in life. “It’s funny and sad in a particularly Japanese way. As I read more of the book, I discovered that it contains lessons on everything: art, science, language, history, politics and philosophy,” translator Bruno Navasky writes. “It also contains a quiet but powerful message on the value of thinking for oneself and standing up for others during troubled times.”
I would’ve never come across this book if I wasn’t invited to sign for the blog tour. This book is supposedly a childhood favorite of well-known animator Hayao Miyazaki. You might not be familiar with that name but he did Spirited Away, My neighbor Totoro, and Howl’s Moving Castle to name a few. And Mr. Miyazaki is said to be going to base his final film on this book. Of course, this piqued my interest. I didn’t even ask the publicist how she comes across my blog. I am just so excited to be part of this tour for the first ever English translation.
How Do you Live features 15-year old boy, Cooper, who lost his father and finds himself in a new season of his life, with some help from his uncle. The book then has two point of views – one is Cooper’s and the other is his uncle’s through letters and journals. The book is very thought provoking. Through Cooper, the book tries to answer questions about life that are both basic and deep. And I can say that it somehow succeeded in that point. What I love about this book is it didn’t just focus on philosophical aspect of things. There are so many lessons featured, from science and history, to politics and ethics. And of course, there are tons of lessons about humanity and morality.
It is easy to relate to Cooper because all of us came or will come to a point in our lives where we begin asking the right questions about life. We don’t have to lose anyone, just as Cooper did, for us to feel that inner longing to understand life, which entails the question how to live, not just with ourselves but more importantly, with others.
Cooper is great kid, all things considered. But he seems to be preoccupied of different things to step up. I love his uncle’s words. I am always excited to read his letters and journals. His words are gems to be treasured. They’re very motivational. I could’ve highlighted lots of lines from his POV if it wouldn’t slow my reading. And the book itself is slow already. That sounds like a criticism but in my case, I didn’t mind the pacing. It fits the story for me. Although, I think that would be a bit of a problem for younger readers. This is, after all, a childrens and Middle Grade book.
I also love Cooper and his friends. Their friendship is so amazing. A little bit dramatic but insightful. But still, my favorite is Cooper’s relationship with his uncle. I think because it makes me think of Mr. Miyazaki as the uncle. I don’t know, it was just easy to imagine the animator as the one giving insightful thoughts.
RATING: 5 blissful pages with lilies
ABOUT THE AUTHOR and TRANSLATOR
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Genzaburō Yoshino (1899-1981) was a Japanese writer and publisher. In 1935, he became director of a collection of educational books for young people. Yoshino stepped in to write How Do You Live? when Yūzō Yamamoto, the expected writer, fell ill. Since its debut as a novel and guide to philosophy for young people, How Do You Live? has been re-edited and republished more than eighty times, a reflection of the changing times and culture in Japan.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR:
Bruno Navasky is a teacher and writer, whose work as a translator and editor includes Festival in My Heart: Poems by Japanese Children and Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets. He was the founding editor of American Poet, the journal of The Academy of American Poets, where he now serves on the board of directors. He lives and works in New York City.
Have you read this book? Or planning to? What do you think of it? Let’s chat.