Fifty Sounds


Fifty Sounds is a love letter to the Japanese language. The love is difficult, full of stumbles and loneliness, but also joy, satisfaction and curiosity. Polly Barton, the translator to whom we owe, among others, the translations of There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura or Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda – writes about her discovery of Japan, about growing up, and it can probably be treated as an autobiographical essay. For me, however, every page overflows with fascination mixed with rejection, love with hate, a whole tangle of complicated and contradictory feelings that, in my heart, mean a relationship with Japan and Japanese language that will last forever.

Each of the chapters is entitled a specific Japanese onomatopoeia (although it is worth mentioning here, as does Barton at the beginning of the book, that the term “onomatopoeia” is also used in the context of words that are not necessarily strictly onomatopoeic, but also those that reflect states of being or emotions.) Sometimes I had to take a break, to admire how another language can capture the emotions that are associated with being “uta uta”, with catching the train “giri giri”, with a sense of relief, “hotto” or with stickiness of natto, which is best reflected in the Japanese “neba neba”.

In some passages, Barton captured incredibly well what I feel when I think of Japan: wonder mixed with helplessness. And each meaning of some onomatopoeia which I has been unaware of, made me smile – because I felt that with each subsequent explanation I was getting closer to Japan. I admit that I was sometimes a little tired with occasional over-philosophized fragments or overcomplicated linguistic acrobatics. But maybe it was all to show what can be done with words?

This book is perfect for people who are fascinated by Japan, Japanese language or learning languages in general – and those who are familiar with the phenomenon of feeling like you contain different versions of yourself depending on which language you are speaking.

"Our engagement in a particular linguistic culture is a performance in an improvisation play whose rules are pre-defined for us, and those practices deemed to lie the closest to honest, unmasked expression are no exception in this; in other words, the patters of behaviour that make up 'being real', 'telling the truth', and 'expressing oneself' are as bound by social conventions as any other."

Czas oczekiwania: 4-5 weeks











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