Friday, August 07, 2009

OH! A Mystery of Mono No Aware, by Todd Shimoda

OH! is a novel by Todd Shimoda. The subtitle is A Mystery of Mono No Aware. NPR said the book was "a triumphant kick in the pants for anyone who doubts the future of paper-and-ink books."

OH! is about an emotionally dysfunctional technical writer named Zack Hara, who abruptly quits his job and quasi-girlfriend and splits for Japan. Once there, Zack searches for his grandfather's mysterious origins, falls in with a cryptic professor who takes to counseling him on mono no aware, and becomes obsessed with Japanese suicide clubs.

The book itself is gorgeous. Interspersed amongst the chapters are notes from Zack's research on the concept of mono no aware, along with wonderful artwork by LJ Shimoda, which all goes a long way toward creating a very atmospheric reading experience.

'Mono no aware' is loosely defined in Zack's notes in the novel as "embod[ying] the essence of human nature - how we think and feel, as well as how we express those thoughts and feelings, particularly through the arts."

Todd Shimoda took a few moments to explain how he crafted the novel, mono no aware, and how the puzzle of the book was fitted together:

Todd: "I first heard about the concept of ‘mono no aware’ when I was working on my second novel The Fourth Treasure. It seemed like what writers, really any artist, was trying to do: get across some emotional reaction through their works. I researched the idea some more and found there wasn’t much written about it, at least in English. So I put together a non-fiction monograph on the subject and tried to get it published. That didn’t work out and I realized I wasn’t fully capturing the feeling of the idea. So I wrote a short story to illustrate the concept which got published (it’s the cherry blossom viewing party scene in OH!). I gradually expanded on the short story into three chapters of a novel, built around Zack Hara’s search for an emotionally fulfilling life. I submitted the chapters and a synopsis to Bruce Rutledge at Chin Music Press. He was very enthusiastic about it from the start and helped me shape the story.

"The art is really a separate project of Linda’s, giving her interpretation of ‘mono no aware’ in the form of visual haiku, small works showing an expressionistic reaction to objects. The text exhibits are “excerpts” from Zack’s research and attempt to understand the concept in a more didactic way. The art and the exhibits don’t literally illustrate the story, but rather supplement it. To integrate the story, art, and text exhibits, Linda selected a piece of her art that went best with a chapter and I dispersed the exhibits based on what Zack was experiencing. But it was Chin Music’s book designer, Josh Powell, who put them together so well. His design made the whole greater than the sum of the parts."

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