Amber Qureshi Discusses Yoko Ogawa’s “Dormitory”

By Amber Qureshi

In her final post for the Ogawa book club, moderator Amber Qureshi talks about the third novella in The Diving Pool and the author’s cinematic use of light and shadow in her writing. Thanks to all for reading along and we hope that if you have a thought on this or any other post in the series, you’ll add it to the discussion in one of the essays, linked below.—Editors

Throughout the stories in the The Diving Pool, which contain a wealth of symbolic and evocative imagery, I am especially struck by Yoko Ogawa’s transfixing and resonant use of light. As a cinematographer of our illusions, our imagination, and our unconscious, she rivals the finest of filmmakers in her manipulation of the medium. In the garden at the Light House of “The Diving Pool,” we find a scene of innocence and horror juxtaposed: “The brilliant sunlight made the shadowy places seem fresh and clean, and the objects in them—a tricycle, a broken flowerpot, every leaf and weed—stood out vividly. Cases of bottles waiting to be recycled and an empty box with a picture of asparagus were piled by the kitchen door.” Later, the doomed child Rie staggers toward the narrator “on unsteady little legs, crossing the boundary between bright sunlight and quiet shade.” In the climax of “Pregnancy Diary,” “a tiny, trembling, tear-soaked cry [comes] from somewhere beyond [a] blaze of sunlight,” and the narrator sees a woman in the window of the maternity hospital whom she might have recognized as her sister, “but the angle of the sun shifted and [the woman] disappeared into the reflection.”

In this final blog post for the discussion of The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa, it might be interesting to consider the ways in which Yoko Ogawa manipulates our senses, a talent shown off to brilliant effect in the final story of the collection, “Dormitory.” From the nagging apian hum that plagues the narrator throughout the action of the story, the delicately flavored foods that the narrator brings and eats with the dormitory Manager, to the deep blue of the tulips in the flower bed, to the feel of the honey emanating from the giant comb in the final scene, Ogawa creates considerable narrative tension through the most ordinary of sensations, a sensibility that the Japanese have a firm handle on. What other senses does Ogawa address in this story, and elsewhere in the book? Why do you think that the simple imagery, plain dialogue, and straightforward narrative style combine to have such a chilling effect on the reader? And why are the most grotesque details—an amputee’s deformities, a sister’s calculated infanticide, a caretaker’s daughter’s obsession with an athlete raised much like a brother to her—handled with so little drama?

I won’t forget the singular and overwhelming impressions and reactions I had the first time I read Yoko Ogawa, and I expect you won’t either. Feel free to share the thoughts you have on your read of her at any time, and I hope you’ll continue to explore the brilliant and unique writing of Yoko Ogawa. Her novel The Professor and the Housekeeper has just been published in English, and the novel Hotel Iris is forthcoming. Thank you.

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Previous posts in this series:

Amber Qureshi’s introduction to Yoko Ogawa

Amber Qureshi discusses “Pregnancy Diary” in her second post for our online book club.

The video from the Idlewild discussion of The Diving Pool

Austin Woerner blogs about the Idlewild discussion.

Stephen Snyder’s interview with Amber Qureshi

Amber Qureshi talks about “The Diving Pool”

Allison Powell talks about Yoko Ogawa, Japanese literature and The Diving Pool


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