Books / Reviews | RECENTLY PUBLISHED BOOKS ABOUT JAPAN

‘The Bear and the Paving Stone’: Whimsical stories celebrating language, friendship and life

by Nicolas Gattig

Contributing Writer

“I just add one word to the next, with no idea where it all ends,” says author Toshiyuki Horie about “The Bear and the Paving Stone,” a collection of his stories now translated into English. “I try to catch the breeze between the words, then ride it wherever it leads.”

The Bear and the Paving Stone, by Toshiyuki Horie, Translated by Geraint Howells.
128 pages
PUSHKIN PRESS, Fiction.

That breeze is most charming in the titular novella, in which a Japanese writer visits an old friend in France, tours Mont Saint-Michel and meets a neighbor whose son is blind. By contrast, the second story, “The Sandman is Coming,” tells of a man joining a woman on a beach walk, on the anniversary of her brother’s death. In the last story, darker in tone, two friends break into a castle with awful results.

Reminiscent of classic French literature, Horie’s prose is meandering but never aimless — a series of observations that range from the life of Emile Littre, who compiled a landmark dictionary of the French language, to a Camembert-throwing contest in Normandy. The touch of the past, of history and personal memory, is always part of the present.

The countryside settings match Horie’s pace. The characters enjoy small moments, the things that they eat and see, then suddenly delve into literature and philosophy. What stands out in “The Bear and the Paving Stone” is the friendship between a French Jew and a Japanese. They are buddies talking till dawn, confiding in each other. Western readers don’t often get to see a cosmopolitan Japanese man speaking another tongue with ease. It is an added delight to these whimsical stories, which celebrate language, friendship and life.