The Diving Pool
Yoko Ogawa
Stephen Snyder, Translator
In the first story, we find Aya who lives in a Japanese orphanage, likes torturing the babies there in the orphanage, likes feeding them spoiled food. In the second, the narrator's sister has morning sickness, develops a powerful appetite for loquat sherbet. "I wasn't sure there was such a thing as loquat sherbet."

    "I want loquat sherbet," she said. "Gold and icy, with the pulp of the fruit frozen into tiny crystals."

Finally, her sister feeds her grapefruit jam until it is time to go in for the delivery. She says she hopes it is filled with a chromosome-damaging chemical, PWH. In Yoko Ogawa's fiction food can be a killer.

In the third and final story, there are pies, cakes, assorted sweets. A cousin calls, needs a place to live while he is at the university in Tokyo. The narrator takes him over to her old dormitory see if there is a vacancy. As they are making their way there, she says, "There's one thing I forgot to mention ... The Manager is missing one leg and both arms."

    There was a short silence.

    "One leg and both arms," he replied at last.

    "His left leg, to be precise."

When they meet with the manager, he offers them tea. He uses his shoulder and chin, serves them perfectly. There are bees popping up here and there around the porch. There are strange tulips growing outside the window ... their colors changing every day. Students disappear: Franz Kafka meets Alfred Hitchcock, and brings along Donald Barthelme.

There is, for example, the manager's one "beautiful" foot,

    Though he must have used it much more than one normally would, it was flawless, without a single cut or bruise. I studied the fleshy instep, the sole that looked so warm and alive, the translucent nails, the long toes --- and I realized that I had never considered a foot so closely or carefully, not even my own, which I could only vaguely recall.

In these three stories, Ogawa mixes scientific scrutiny and solemn naturalistic details: the rain outside, the layout of a room, the chlorine smell of a gymnasium. Because of her perfect pacing, even the oddest plot twists become believable, draw the reader in so that by the end of "Dormitory," we come to feel as weird as the dying manager, hunched in his bed, alone with his strange visitor in the darkened room. He sucks down the last piece of pound cake; she notices the bees coming in, swarming around a funny spot growing on the ceiling of the darkened room. It gets quite spooky in there. You don't want it to end. It doesn't.

--- Deb Das
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH