Title: Simon and Hiroko
Author: Marius Hancu
Price: $ 3.48
Simon and Hiroko is an absorbing love story set in Tokyo at the beginning of '90s. The city becomes a character: it is carefully described through many details, like the crowded metro, the small flats, Japanese food... The cultural alterity of Japanese people, their kindness and self-restraint immediately attract the reader's interest.
Simon is a young American professional photographer who moved to Japan to seize an interesting job opportunity. Simon is in bad terms with his father who wanted him to become a businessman; his mother is a self-centred and aloof woman. For him, Tokyo represents freedom. Just arrived at Narita airport, he meets a girl some years younger than him, Hiroko, who helps him with the train ticket. She is tall to be a Japanese, slender and kind, but she avoids politely to tell Simon her name - he reads it on a label attached to her shoulder bag. He is immediately fascinated by this mysterious girl and tries to meet her again. He doesn't know that Hiroko belongs to a strange family: her parents don't live together, her sister is a disagreeable girl, and, especially, her father is a Yakuza boss: Yakuza is a mighty criminal organization similar to Mafia. Simon succeeds in meeting again Hiroko and she seems interested in him. Their love is as delicate as cherry blossoms: it is made of walks, dinners, trips. It is also a passionate love, but the author avoids unnecessary descriptions. But Hiroko's father, Kazuhiro Yuasa, finds out that his daughter has a relationship with an American boy and will do everything in his power to interfere with Simon and Hiroko's plans.
Kazuhiro is a negative but fascinating character: he spends most of his time in an underground bunker, he has no friends (except for a faithful German shepherd called Tora Tora), he tries to control his daughters' lives and, above all, he lives in the past: 'he … is surrounded by ghosts past', says Hiroko's mother. For him, World War II has never ended: American people are the villains and everything that regards their culture and life-style must be rejected. He has a difficult relationship with Hiroko: he accuses her of being too modern and of having forgotten ancient Japanese traditions. Hiroko is a dancer, she knows the traditional dances but she prefers the modern ones. She knows what being a geisha means and she doesn't want to become one. It is obvious that Kazuhiro cannot accept Simon and Hiroko's love. But also Simon's father has some old scars: Simon's grandfather died in 1945 during a kamikaze attack against the cruiser where he worked as an officer.
Simon and Hiroko is the story of an opposed love, set in a Japan that is modern but at the same time bound to its origins. It is also the portrait of a young woman who struggles to assert her individuality is a society still dominated by men who would deny her right to choose the person she loves.
Amaranta: Why did you decide to write a love story?
Marius Hancu: Let me first of all thank you for your hosting this interview at your blog. I like Gabriel García Márquez and his One Hundred Years of Solitude very much, to the extent of trying to woo young ladies once by reading them passages from it over the phone. Thus it is with an eerie, but very pleasant feeling of surprise, that I am discovering myself interviewed by someone with the name Amaranta.
Coming back to your question, I am tempted to reply: Why not write about love? Do we have something more worthwhile in our lives? Perhaps, first of all, as it takes us out of our own limited individual existence. It is exhilarating even if when it is unrequited, but when it is shared, there is nothing better, to my mind. It is also something so fundamentally ingrained in our being that we cannot take it from the conversation without things seeming suddenly dry.
Amaranta: There are reminders of Shakespeare in Simon and Hiroko.
Marius Hancu: There is a bit of Shakespeare in all of us
Amaranta: Why did you choose Japan as the setting for your novel?
Marius Hancu: May I say: because I really felt like doing it? Now, joking aside, I lived in Japan for two years, in Tokyo even, the center of the story. The natural beauty of the country, the contrast between old and new, are omnipresent and strong enough to become fascinating and to inhabit one for ever. I still see in my imagination the bamboo trees I had in the back garden of my house, the shrines peppering Tokyo, the old capitals of Nara – the deer on the alleys in front of the shrines — Kamakura , and Kyoto, which I visited. And, most of all, because I am still impressed with the people of Japan, who so many times go differently about living life from us in the West, with more patience and more respect for the past. Least but not last, because I was fascinated by the ways, dress, and the beauty of the local ladies.
Amaranta: Hiroko has a difficult relationship with her father. Do you think that contemporary Japanese society is still dominated by men?
Marius Hancu: Hiroko has difficulties with her father first and foremost because they are so different from each other. You see, the good and the bad are spread unevenly in that family, as in many families. Kazuhiro is an idealist turned bad. In his adolescence, he wants to save the honor of his family, tainted by their role in a three-hundred-years-old famous story, only to realize he cannot do too much about it, which turns him into a Yakuza, a gangster. Hiroko is still the idealist.
In terms of the Japanese society, let’s not forget the story takes place in the ‘90s. Things were changing even then, the previous decade witnessing for example the first generation of women working as professional engineers in large companies. Not anymore were they entering the workforce anymore simply to find eligible bachelors to marry, as it had happened previously. And things have continued to change since then.
Also, and this has been forever, in the home, the Japanese women know, most of the time, how to prevail. So, there is compensation in the cards in this tug-of-war.
Amaranta: Hiroko tries to fight for her right to love the man she has chosen. Hiroko's sister seems to accept the female role imposed by her father. Would you like to explain how did you create her character?
Marius Hancu: I wanted to create an ally for Kazuhiro inside the Yuasa family, someone less principled than Hiroko, someone who would better understand him, at least in part. I like variety in characters – this helps foster conflict and allows the writer to look from different angles at a situation. And it seemed fun, just as in life, to show that the same couple of parents can beget children so radically different from each other.
Amaranta: Simon's father doesn't like his son's job - he seems to think that creativity is useless. Do you think that such attitude is widespread in contemporary America?
Marius Hancu: Simon’s father is just a sharp moneymaker – what he knows and he understands, what he excels at, is to create wealth on the stock exchange. Thus, yes, he doesn’t care much for Simon’s artistic bend. This being said, I tend not to generalize in anything. This is the way he is, these are his own exaggerations – many other North American fathers would, on the contrary, help their sons to achieve independence and to be creative, I think.
Amaranta: What do you think about the contrasts between children and parents in our society?
Marius Hancu: For one thing, such contrasts might be sharper than with previous generations, as the children, different from previously, have many reference models so remote in manners, style and principles from their parents, models culled from the TV, movies, the social media. It is more difficult now for parents, I assume, as on any given day you may be confronted with something discussed in a chat room and taken as Moses’ tables. This may lead to earlier estrangement, and then you might get even Colombine.
Amaranta: Who are your favourite novelists (both contemporary and from the past)?
Marius Hancu: Again, perhaps not surprisingly for someone with your pen name, Gabriel García Márquez, to whom I would add in no specific order William Faulkner, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, John Fowles, Marcel Proust, George Eliot, Haruki Murakami, Julian Barnes, Anthony Burgess, Robert Penn-Warren, James Dickey, Evelyn Waugh, Ian McEwan, Virginia Woolf.
Amaranta: While writing Simon and Hiroko, did you draw inspiration from some specific contemporary author?
Marius Hancu: I’d only say that seeing Haruki Murakami talk about Tokyo, which is probably unavoidable for a Japanese writer these days, encouraged me to use myself that particular metropolis as the setting of my novel. Still, the Tokyo and the Japan of my novel are my own castings, and in major respects imaginary, even though real events, from three hundred years ago to the ‘90s, are reflected somehow.
Amaranta: You decided to sell your book on Amazon only for Kindle. Do you think that the Internet is changing the readers' habits?
Marius Hancu: Definitely. Not only the Internet, but also the various e-readers available, such as the Kindle or the iPad. I, as someone who annotates his readings with hundreds of notes, prefer to read a lot on my laptop, in order to directly cut-and-paste in footnotes various critical or language commentary on one passage or another, from Google Books or other places.
Now, this being said, I still hope to find a favorable deal for the print versions. I love printed books and I know many people do too.
Deers at Nara