Solo Dance by Li Kotomi: The New Voice of Japan and How to write an LGBT Novel

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Li Kotomi (December 26, 1989-) is a Taiwanese-born Japanese novelist and translator. Her Japanese novel Hitorimai (Solo Dance) received the 60th Gunzo New Writers’ Award for Excellence in 2017, and her novel “An Island Where Red Spider Lilies Bloom”, won the 165th Akutagawa Award.

Growing up in Taiwan, Li Kotomi felt oppressed even though her grades were good in a high-pressure educational environment, so she yearned for freedom. Li began to study Japanese at the age of 15, originally on a sudden idea. In her second year of junior high school, her class teacher was a Mandarin teacher, and she was dissatisfied with Li Kotomi’s learning of Japanese, and she included Japanese sentences in the English sentence translation exercises in her daily contact book, causing her class teacher to mock her several times: “Why are you learning the language of the invaders? At this time, she also began to write Chinese novels. She became aware of her homosexuality in high school, but did not disclose it until college.

Since her debut, Ms. Li has consistently written novels featuring people of various genders and minorities, including women, non-native speakers, foreigners, and sexual minorities. such as “Hitorimai” which won the Gunzo New Writers Award for Excellence, “Count to Five and the Crescent Moon” which was nominated for the Akutagawa Prize, and her recent book “The Night of the Shining North Star” about people passing through Shinjuku Ni-Chome.

Solo Dance by Li Kotomi

A lot of Kotomi-san’s articles are available online, albeit in Japanese, where she addresses common issues in Japanese and Taiwanese literature, such as the reluctance to call “Lesbian” or “Homosexual novels” by these names. If it includes love between women, then they should proudly say though and it would be really encouraging for the reader. But after making her debut, she realized the problem lies in the healthy environment of the literary word, and that A literary work is only complete when the writer and the reader work together, and if the reader neglects to make an effort, the depth of the work will be limited. This is precisely the situation that writers fear the most.

Critiques throw novels of these kinds into certain labels, for example, calling them devoid of eroticism and shoving them aside, using their limited perspective on the topic. Li Kotomi wants to write about their lives before they were becoming a business fad, But this means that the current situation they are living in is still far from the ideals of “equality,” “coexistence,” and “mutual understanding.”

Li Hitomi wants a new movement away from historical novels. Readers do not read “heterosexual literature,” but rather read each “work” and try to discern its true value. That’s why in her opinion, you should not label the work but try to understand it. With this, readers can get more immersed and interested in her first English debut work: Hitorimai or Solo Dance, translated beautifully in English by Arthur Reiji Morris, and works more like her own biography, which is fitting for the first novel to ever grace the international medium.

Solo Dance Synopsis

A powerful novel about the LGBTQ rights movement and gay love in Japan and Taiwan, from the most important queer voice of East Asia’s millennial generation.

Cho Norie, twenty-seven and originally from Taiwan, is working an office job in Tokyo. While her colleagues worry about the economy, life-insurance policies, marriage, and children, she is forced to keep her unconventional life hidden—including her sexuality and the violent attack that prompted her move to Japan. There is also her unusual fascination with death: she knows from personal experience how devastating death can be, but for her it is also creative fuel. Solo Dance depicts the painful coming of age of a gay person in Taiwan and corporate Japan. This striking debut is an intimate and powerful account of a search for hope after trauma.

Solo Dance by Li Kotomi

In the special postscript, available on the author’s website, she describes her views on suicide and death after visiting Lincoln’s rock on a trip to Sydney. She thought about all the words that have a syllable that is similar to the word of death in Japanese, like “Swamp”, “Water”, and “Lake”, all of which can be metaphors for death. Once she thought it was a fitting place for her to die there, and thought of “death” on that day, this novel occurred to her. She also references some influential authors on her and the Taiwanese literature scene, and how they described the process of recovering from the suicide of a close friend.

She described “Solo Dance” as a tribute to these two writers, and in the end, she says that the development of the main character might come off as two convenient, or even just a coincidence, but as she is reflecting from her life in this novel, she decided to keep it, because just like how the idea of “Death” popped in her mind as a coincidence, she also thinks a lot of things in life are made up of coincidences and we should just appreciate them for the miracles they are.

If you have the time, please check out Solo Dance, which confirms the various identities of sexuality inside oneself, but also decorated with jewel-like Chinese poetry quotations. The title “Solo Dance” or Solitary Dance refers to the way of life of the hero who lives to dance until he dies alone on the stage. It is not just a novel about the life of the author, but the intensity that gave birth to her volatile spirit and way with words.

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