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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A witty and entertaining novella which is both very readable and thought-provoking
Fear And Trembling is a delightfully humourous novella which is eminently readable, yet also thought-provoking in a multitude of ways. Semi-autobiographical, it is a first-person narrative of the Japanese corporation through Western eyes. The rigidly hierarchical, authoritarian, racist and sexist Japanese corporation which dominates Japanese society is portrayed with...
Published on 17 May 2012 by Pablo

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Revenge of the Loo Brush
"Fear and trembling" describe the behaviour expected of the Japanese on entering the presence of their Emperor, when he was still regarded as a living god. These extreme emotions were still found to apply when Amélie Nothomb took up a year's contract in 1990 as a translator in the authoritarian, anti-individualistic, inward-looking Japanese corporation of...
Published on 7 April 2012 by Antenna


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A witty and entertaining novella which is both very readable and thought-provoking, 17 May 2012
By 
Pablo (Co. Down/ Navarra) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fear and Trembling (Paperback)
Fear And Trembling is a delightfully humourous novella which is eminently readable, yet also thought-provoking in a multitude of ways. Semi-autobiographical, it is a first-person narrative of the Japanese corporation through Western eyes. The rigidly hierarchical, authoritarian, racist and sexist Japanese corporation which dominates Japanese society is portrayed with penetrating irony and humour and as such constitutes an insightful, if at times simplistic, analysis of Japanese society. But before Western voices smugly talk about "the age-old divide between East and West" (Oprah Magazine) or an "attack on an alien culture" (Daily Telegraph), I think it's worth pondering the universality of this little book. Over the past century, corporations have increasingly come to dominate societies the world over, and as Joel Bakan has lucidly analysed in 'The Corporation', the corporation is an inherently psychopathic entity. We can laugh at the Japanese executive who names his son 'work' in Japanese, but the Japanese are by no means the only wage-slaves. Nor is workplace bullying and sexism confined to Japan. Corporations dominate the lives of people both humane and inhumane, intelligent and stupid, the world over. Amélie's eventual fate as a lavatory cleaner can be seen as a metaphor for the price of non-conformism in any contemporary society. Fear And Trembling is thus also a penetrating indictment of corporate society per se. As for those who talk of Nothomb as "over-rated", this concept implies a consensus about literature which thankfully doesn't exist, moribund academics notwithstanding. For me personally Fear And Trembling is a wonderful book. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Classic Account of Workplace Bullying, 3 Nov 2012
By 
Christopher H (Keilor, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Fear and Trembling (Paperback)
Amelie Nothomb lands a job in Tokyo with a major Japanese corporation. The young Belgian has an impeccable background: besides excelling at university, she grew up the child of a leading European diplomatic family (she grew up in cities in Japan, China, America and several other countries), spoke and read several languages fluently, and was immersed in the culture of diplomacy. Surely she would be a useful addition to any corporation?

The management of the unidentified corporation she served within for a year put her through a relentless process of bullying and humiliation. This is a crucially important book which describes how management engineers workplace bullying.

Initially she is used as a tea lady. This is the first step in what becomes a long gruelling process of trying to wear her down and break her. For a time she becomes the mail girl, then the person who changes the date on people's calendars. Then she is assigned pointless photocopying, which is deliberately thrown away by a senior manager at the end of each day. The indignities mount as she is criticised, undermined, harrassed, overruled, shouted at, betrayed, humilated until, after several months, she is made the toilet attendant. And the bullying still doesn't stop.

The greatest anger is incurred whenever Ms Nothomb does good work. She uses her diplomatic skills when serving coffee to visiting Japanese executives. A senior manager is furious, and besides issuing orders that she is not to do this again, instructs her to forget the Japanese language. On another occasion she researches and writes a report on foreign imports, which a manager of another division describes as impeccable. The vice president is livid, and forbids her to do any such thing again.

Much effort is directed by management into identifying work that Ms Nothomb cannot handle, and when it is found, the managers gloatingly humiliate her over a lack of competance.

This is all classic institutional bullying. Those above make it their task to break a talented, high achieving employee, abusing their power to try to destroy her self esteem. As Nothomb comments when seeing another employee shouted at and bullied, the managerial abuse was a form of rape.

Nothomb's book is very much a survivor's tale of workplace bullying, and it would be a mistake to read it as a judgement on Japanese business. This managerial behaviour is duplicated around the world, even in Western companies and public administration. This is a very important book. It should be a compulsory read for friends and family members of people who have health problems due the workplace abuses.

(In my case it took three years until I was moved to the toilets. Yes, it really does happen!)

P.S. Everything that happens in that dysfunctional Japanese workplace ties in with the analysis offered by the psychologist Peter Randall in his book Adult Bullying: Perpetrators and Victims
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the real world!, 2 April 2012
This review is from: Fear and Trembling (Paperback)
Once upon a time, a year after the start of the 1989 Japanese recession, a new employee came to work at the Yumimoto company in Tokyo. Having been born in Japan, and having left it for several years before coming back there in 1989, Amelie's dream is finally going to come true. She is going to work in this wonderful country as a translator for this company. Although she tries to do her job as best as she can, which is with honesty and dedication, she unfortunately has to deal with certain hypocritical employees, including one of her superior who doesn't hesitate to employ certain unethical favors in order to put Amelie back to her place, and remind her that although she knows how to speak and write Japanese, she is not, and will never be, welcomed among them and that she has to kneel before them.

There have been ardent fans of Japan and Anime, tourists, and other Japanese who wrote very rude letters to Amelie Nothomb, accusing her of racism or that she probably deserved what she had to suffer. Which I disagree for I got to spend time with some Japanese and I agree with many things that Amelie wrote in her book. it is evident that this author, who based her book on experiences she lived in a Japanese company, wrote down something that some hardcore fan of Japan or Anime would not want to hear. That deep down, the country that they dream, and almost worship, is not as wonderful and open-minded as the Animes, Mangas, and Japanese movies they love to watch which tend to present Japan as this Wonderland. Although there are some good Japanese who live there, like the wonderful Mr. Tenshi who works at Yumimoto company, not all of them are yet ready to accept foreigners among their employees. And this was an opinion that has been shared by other Japanese salarymen who wrote to the author and defended her novel, and what she wrote, as a very truthful account of what it is to be a Japanese salaryman.

For those of you who want more proof that the author is not racist, read her books "The Character of Rain", "Biography of Hunger" and "Tokyo Fiancee". Those books have wonderful Japanese, all people that Amelie met during her life and whose stories she's ready to share.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, 19 Mar 2006
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Fear and Trembling (Paperback)
I have never been to Japan and have no idea whether Amélie Nothomb’s picture of Japanese corporate society is correct - but if it is, it is a horrifying one: sadistically hierarchical, where no one can expect any pleasure, can hope only to avoid shame, and where the expectation for women in particular is a life of such artificiality and submission that their only escape could be into a pleasure-less and loveless marriage with some man who is nearly as stunted as she is. A western woman, hoping to work in such an environment for which nothing has prepared her, is likely to be driven mad, to lose all confidence in herself and eventually even to see in her own degradation some kind of liberation: she can hardly fall any lower. She should have been sacked for incompetence, but it is almost impossible for a corporation to sack an employee. As for her, however humiliated she is, she won’t quit herself before her contract was up because she, too, has assumed that quitting is a matter of shame rather than of an assertion of her dignity. (True, she also admits that she already had a martyr-complex.) That, at any rate, is what happens to the Belgian-educated Amélie in this story. The blurbs on the back describe the book as ‘funny’ and ‘hilarious’: I find it hard to enjoy the humour. It is one thing to find Japanese culture alien to that of the west, another to subject it to an attack so savage and unremitting that I think it comes close to racism. Lest we think that Nothomb is merely describing the situation in one particular company from which we should not draw general conclusions about the country as a whole, she drives her point home by saying that Japan was simply ‘an extension of The Company’. That the book has achieved international best-seller status must dismay even those Japanese (and I know some) who are critical of their conformist society.
I have given this book a four star rating for its literary quality. Were the rating to reflect how it made me feel - that is, uneasy and indeed repelled - it would be considerably lower.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars title, 22 April 2012
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This review is from: Fear and Trembling (Paperback)
Interesting read, written in a very simple and at times childish language, exploring tiny bits of Japanese culture and comparing it, very mildly, with Western culture. After reading this, I immediately ordered some other books of Amelie Nothomb! :)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'All forms of beauty are poignant. Japanese beauty particularly so', 10 Dec 2011
By 
Hazel Danielle Benson "witch-hazel" (England, Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Fear and Trembling (Paperback)
Amelie Nothomb has a real passion for Japan and the Japanese. Her story of working in Japan is peppered with one failure after another. She just never seems to get it right. This failure to connect in a land she has long lost touch with does not detract from the fact she loves it unconditionally and takes every knock with a smile, and an almost maddening sense of positivity.

I was fortunate to find this book in a clearance sale priced just 49p, and it's got to be one of my all time favourites. It is not a happy book particularly, but not a tear-jerkingly sad read either. It borders somewhere between the two. There is an honest tone to this book, like the author is talking very personally to her audience about her experiences in Japan. I feel like i've sat and listened to this story over a coffee; just the author and me. Her writing is totally engaging, and I left this book hungry for more stories from this writers life.

Also, it is the only book I've come away from and felt inspired to write something from my own life. A writer who can inspire their audience to feel this way must surely be something special. Perhaps, it isn't the stories they tell, but the way in which they tell them.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fear and Trembling, 2 Sep 2010
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I loved this book. Very witty and almost semi-tragic at times. I have been to Japan, but didn't even skirt the surface of the culture not speaking Japanese or being there for any length of time. Re the Japanese person who reviewed this book, I thought the whole point was the lack of cultural mutual understanding, but I can see what you are saying. Some of the Japanese characters and the company don't come out terribly well. I don't think it should be taken as a slight. One person's experience with a lot of embroidering/fictionalization.
Anyway I am not making any assumptions about Japanese culture on the basis of it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My career was in the toilet, 4 Nov 2009
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This review is from: Fear and Trembling (Paperback)
Literally, in the bathrooms on the forty-fourth floor of the Yumimoto Corporation. This is some comedown given the narrator's early ambition. "When I was little I wanted to become God... When I was about five I realized this would never happen." Never mind, next in line for the young Amélie to aim for was Christ, a dream which lasted another couple of years, when she set her heart on becoming a martyr. Despite these early setbacks, and despite demonstrating a less than godlike aptitude for arithmetic, she can still exclaim - looking down on the "glittering city far below" the forty-fourth floor - "I ruled the world! I was God!"

Just as well we're on her side by this stage of the story - there are few characters who could get away with such declarations without us throwing up either our hands or our breakfast. The absurdity, however, lies not so much in a young girl having male deities as role models but in her grown-up ambition to succeed in the masculine culture of a Japanese multinational corporation. Now that really is bonkers. As well as being female, early on she commits "the crime of showing initiative" and is accused of being an individualist ("the height of injury").

"Your despicable behavior" - says her superior - "is typical of Westerners. You put your personal vanity ahead of the interests of the company." That she is a white girl who understands Japanese has already been remarked upon in a derogatory way, and another boss has made the corporate hierarchy and her place in it very clear: "There is always a means of obeying. That's what Western brains need to understand." This degree of both racism and hemispherism is in part, I suspect, a novelist's hyperbole. Nevertheless, it exaggerates the truth to great comic effect: liberal relativists in the West are so busy affirming the validity and equality of every other people on the planet that it never occurs to them that we Westerners too can be the objects of prejudice.

Amélie-san is not the only one on the receiving end of a managerial dressing down, the most thorough being reserved for her immediate boss, the "ravishingly svelte and graceful" Fubuki Mori. No one in the office speaks up in her defence: "Our submission to absolute authority was abject." The working day at Wernham Hogg is excruciating in many ways, but at least there's an even-handed distribution of humiliation in the Slough office. Life at Yumimoto doesn't seem any fun at all for anyone (with "fear and trembling" is how one should approach the Emperor, or any superior, it seems), least of all for an ambitious white woman like Amélie. Mundane tasks induce an "extraordinary tranquillity" and eliminate all thought. "To think I had been silly enough to get a college degree... My mind was not that of a conqueror, but that of a cow that spends its life chewing contentedly in the meadow of invoices..." Suicide - "a very honorable act" - is always an option, "unless you have been stupid enough to convert to Christianity" or you are a Japanese woman. And there is the work ethic ("in the eyes of the Japanese, you can never work too hard"), which makes our Protestant version seem like a slacker manifesto.

"You have no hope of either being happy or of making others happy... your life means nothing" - this, among other delightful encouragements, is what the Japanese woman takes to heart as she takes her place in the world. Comically different is our narrator's self-deprecating style and dreams of escape, and yet, despite all the cultural contrasts and workplace misunderstandings, she is still trying to connect: "I had no other motive than my good, well-meaning, and stupid humanity." A great novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars light but profound, 30 July 2009
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This short book manages to be both hilarious and painful and both light and profound - written with a delicate touch but serious in its exploration of ideas.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilariously irritating, 6 Nov 2003
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I just loved it! It is very short and easy to read, quick!
Nothomb does not waste time describing the obvious (the reader is definitely not taken by the hand to the point that the imagination is not even required).
I was wondering who really was the victim, or victims, or the torturer(s). It ends abruptely and you almost wonder if you are missing some pages.
I loved to hate its plot and characters. A simple book that really entertained me for my daily train route (from gigling to wanting to punch people). I have already ordered more of Nothomb books... and I cant wait! I was entertained and surprised, the perfect match for fiction book reading.
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Fear and Trembling
Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb (Paperback - 19 Aug 2004)
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