Language is accurate: you run for your life. If you are dying, leave. If you are suffering, move. There is no other law, only movement” – Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam (Tokyo Fiancée), Amélie Nothomb
First Impression: This book was part of my spring-summer reading list of 2017, which you can view here if interested. I already knew a little bit of the plotline before I began the novel after hearing a presentation about it during one of my French classes. Unfortunately for me, I was given quite a few spoiler alerts, but this didn’t detract from the enjoyment I received from reading this charming and bizarre love story. There is an English translated version called Tokyo Fiancée, but I decided to read the novel in French and write a review in English.
Twenty-one-year-old Amelie adores Japanese culture, and longs to relive the joys of her childhood in Japan. When Amelie decides to move from her native country of Belgium to the sprawling city of Tokyo to become a French language teacher, little did she know that she would find romance. Amelie’s heart is captured by Rinri, her shy, charming, and rich Japanese student. But can a relationship between two people from two different worlds last?
About the Book
Title: Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam (English translation title: Tokyo Fiancée)
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Series: This book is a stand-alone, however, as this novel is based upon the author’s own life, it fits in a timeline with her other semi-memoir novels: Métaphysique des tubes (The Character of Rain), and Stupeur et Tremblements (Fear and Trembling).
Year Published: 2007
Genres: autobiographical fiction, novel, memoir, romance, Japan, culture differences, contemporary
(Note: any quotations from the novel will be presented in the original French with an unofficial translation by me in English. Forgive me if I make a few translation errors).
Like Amelie, I am a huge fan of Japanese culture. Although I have never been to Japan, I had read many articles about life in Japan as well as I watch many vlogs on YouTube about Japan. For the ordinary person who knows next to nothing about Japanese culture, this book may be a bit of a challenge in some cases. Though Nothomb tends to give a decent explanation for certain unfamiliar Japanese terms such as “kotatsu.” Nothomb writes:
“Le kotatsu représente un mode de vie davantage qu’un chauffage: dans les maisons traditionnelles, un trou carre occupe un vaste coin du séjour et, au centre de ce creux, siège le poêle en métal. On s’assied par terre, les jambes pendantes dans la piscine remplie de chaleur, et on protège ce bassin d’air torride d’une immense couverture » – Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam, Amélie Nothomb
The kotatsu represents an advantageous mode of living rather than as a heating source: in traditional homes, a square hole occupies a vast corner of the living room, and in the center of depth, sits a metal stove. They sit on the ground, their legs hanging in the pool of heat, and they protect this basin of warm air with large blanket” – Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam, Amélie Nothomb
The romance in this novel is very unconventional in compared to many of the romance novels that I’ve read in the past. Most romance novels tend to follow a similar pattern. There is the eventful first meeting, the realization of the protagonist that he/she has feelings for the love interest, the confession, the magical dates, and the happily ever after. This novel does not indulge in the moment where Rinri and Amelie first have romantic feelings for one another. It appears as if their relationship just happens out of thin air. One moment they are in a tutor-student relationship, then suddenly they go on a bunch of dates. As this novel is based on the author’s real experiences when she lived in Japan for a few years, the novel takes on a nostalgic tone rather than portraying an idealized love story.
Nothomb takes on a playful tone when Amelie and Rinri talk about the differences between western culture and Asian culture instead of an accusatory tone. These culture differences become the cornerstone of their relationship as they continuously fascinate one another with their bizarre ways. But, these differences also lead to miscommunications between Amelie and Rinri, causing frustration on both parts. What I ended up liking the most about this novel is its honesty. Nothomb doesn’t try to sugar coat Amelie’s relationship with Rinri. As with every romantic relationship, there are challenges that a couple must overcome. For Amelie and Rinri, an international couple, they have to overcome unique challenges that many couples do not face. For instance, when Amelie is given the task to play hostess to Rinri’s friends. Her inability to perform her duty as a conversationalist ends up causing frustration on Amelie’s part as she doesn’t know how to perform her role to meet everyone’s expectations. However, these challenges are not impossible to overcome.
I would recommend this novel to those who have an affinity for Japanese culture. It is an interesting portrait of Japanese society from the perspective of a Belgian woman. I would also recommend this novel to fans of Amelie Nothomb. Even though this novel is rather different from the other Amelie Nothomb novels that I read in the past, there is a unique eccentric flare that only Nothomb can pull off. In Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam, this eccentricity takes on the guise of a love story.
Final rating: B
Until next time,