"Fear and Trembling" by Amélie Nothomb

Once upon a time, a young Belgian writer sent her first novel to a major French Publisher. The book came out in 1991 : a huge success thanks also to the author's spectacular personality. Olivier Barrot tells us more.

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Amélie Nothomb, who was born in Japan where her father served as the Belgian ambassador, wears extravagant hats, claims she enjoys special dishes like worms, and makes an announcement : from now on, I will publish one novel per year, I have scores of manuscripts waiting. The promise was kept : every Fall, Amélie delivers a new story, 20 now, she has become one of the best selling authors in Europe.
"Fear and Trembling" came out in 1999 in France, and was distinguished by the Académie française. No surprise, it happens to be one of Nothomb's best books, filled with her own memories of Japan. Listen to the first paragraph :
"Mister Haneda was senior to Mister Omochi, who was senior to Mister Saito, who was senior to Miss Mori, who was senior to me. I was senior to no one. You could put this another way. I took orders from Miss Mori, who took orders from Mister Saito, and so on up the ladder. Within the import-export division of the Yumimoto Corporation, I took orders from everyone".
Amelie, a young Belgian girl who happens to speak Japanese, has been hired by a major company. She expects she'll be accepted, if not welcomed, by her colleagues and superiors. After all, who else can provide such an experience of a sophisticated country like Japan ? Unfortunately, nothing of the kind, and even nothing kind will happen.
Amélie Nothomb remains a Japan lover, more conscious than so many Westerners of the prevailing cultural gap between the Far East and both Europe and America.
Her heroin's misfortunes may also be funny, like when she is ordered to pretend she should not understand Japanese any longer. "That's impossible, she replies, no one could obey an order like that". To which Mister Saito answers meaningfully : "There is always a means of obeying.That's what Wersterner brains need to understand". She has noticed that wall calendars are rarely updated, and suggests she could take care of this basic task, she will be the official calendar turner of the Yumimoto Corporation... Time goes by, the end of her contract is due soon. She has become friends with her gorgeous colleague Mori Fubuki, and started working on a book.
Her last assignment as a caretaker of the ladies room has not been that rewarding. She goes back to Europe. Her first novel is published, she receives a letter from Tokyo, written in elegant Japanese characters. "Congratulations, Amelie-san". Signed, Mori Fubuki.

 

O.B.

 

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