Fear and Trembling- Amelie Nothomb



I must say, I was really surprised by this book. I work for a Japanese company here in Vancouver and I have noticed that my Japanese co-workers have to adhere to different standards and rules from the rest of us (we don’t question it, what can you do?). It’s been interesting working there because half of my co-workers are Japanese, the other half aren’t. We’ve had to adapt to each other’s cultures and I think we do so quite well. It does feel like we’re split into two camps and I have often been approached by a Japanese co-worker to say something to the boss, something I can get away with saying as I’m not Japanese.

So because of my experiences working with the Japanese, and talking to them about corporate culture in Japan, I shouldn’t have been too shocked by the content of this book but I was. Yumimoto Corporation sounds like hell to me and I felt sorry, for the most part, for Amelie, the Belgian girl who works there and quickly gets on the bad side of her female co-worker, who is villainous but feels the need to be as she is a woman working in a male-dominated world.

I’m still not completely convinced by Amelie though. She was born in Japan, lived there until she was 5 years old, yet when she moves back to Japan, she seems to have accepted the Japanese corporate life way too easily. As a westerner, Amelie is used to taking the initiative. That doesn’t fly in Japan, apparently. She becomes a total pushover. It doesn’t sound plausible that a western woman would do that without a fight.

This book was meant to be satirical.  Not that I found too much of it funny, it was more sad than anything. And I was surprised by the comments Nothomb made about Japanese society, how there’s only two ways out for women; marriage or suicide. I found that a bit harsh. It was weird because on one hand she loves Japanese culture, on the other hand she is so scathing of it.

I know it must be difficult working in a different corporate culture. These days we’re supposed to adapt to the culture of the country, instead of bringing our western ideals into there (although I’m not a westerner, I have spent the majority of my life in the west, so I include myself in this group). So there is bound to be conflicts and with ethnocentric attitudes things aren’t going to end well.

I realize I’ve gone off topic and I’m not talking so much about the book now. Well, I did like the book. It was a quick read and Nothomb does have a graceful writing style. However, several things didn’t sit right with me.


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