Book 948 Amelie Nothomb – Fear and Trembling

Well I’ve begun a new decade and it seems that the first entry (or last if  since i’m working backwards) is a good start. Funnily enough Fear and Trembling’s cover has always seemed to haunt me.  When I worked at the bookstore we had an endless supply and we ended up selling copies at a discount price. When I left the store and began my first job proper there was a copy in the school library and then when I was dismissed from that place in 2006 I found it in bargain bins in various bookstores around the island.

Naturally when it was part of this list it seemed that every existing copy had disappeared of the face of this earth so I had to order it from the ever dependable book depository. It was worth the trouble though.

Amelie is a Belgian of   Japanese descent and she decides to return to her roots by working in a Japanese corporation. Although she thinks of it as the perfect way to interact with her people she gets a lot more than she bargains for.

Right from the start she is bullied by her bosses by doing mundane actions such as photocopying a 1000 leaflets manually, or converting sums into yen and then adding them up. The ultimate low she reaches is when she becomes a toilet attendant.

It is worth noting that none of this is written in a self-pitying style. Nothomb is able to look at the humorous aspect of all this and quite a few times I did laugh. She is an acute observer of habits and mannerisms and she brings this out very well.

Really what we are getting here is a commentary on Western and Eastern viewpoints. Usually the media presents culture clashes in a rosy tinted way, like one can reconcile and live with people with different mentalities but here it’s the opposite. Amelie gets demoted every single time she uses her western ideals to remedy a situation, when in fact the Japanese people portrayed in Fear and Trembling get insulted as they feel that Amelie’s an intruder.

The only time when there is a bit of redemption (and I mean a bit) is when Amelie succumbs to the Japanese custom of informing all her bosses that she is leaving her workplace and she needs their approval and judgment.(The  phrase fear and trembling itself is a response that people would answer the emperor when asked for their judgment) It is the only time she feels truly free in the novel as well.

For it’s brevity Fear and Trembling is a very enjoyable novel that has lashes of sly wit and is a realistic view of culture clashes and is entertaining.