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on 24 July 2001
A matter of life or death. The japanese corporate culture under inspection by this young and extremely talented Belgian author. Humour is present on every page. Once you start reading it you won't stop. And at the end of the book, you'll realise that there are much more than a mere 5000 miles that separates Japan from the occident. A must read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 April 2012
"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 "Yumimoto". The shattering of her illusions was all the more painful since this young Belgian had lived happily in Japan as a child.

In the semi-autobiographical book based heavily on her experiences, Amelie describes her humiliating descent through a series of tasks, ending up spending months as the lavatory attendant on the forty-fourth floor. The decision to endure this fate rather than resign is her only form of retaliation, since her ludicrous demotion reflects badly on her boss. The only way the other staff can show sympathy, if not solidarity, is by boycotting the loos in her charge.

I was torn between frustration through not knowing how much of this parody is true or just very exaggerated and unsubtle,irritation over Amélie who is clearly a pain in the neck at times and brings troubles upon herself, and a sense of unease over the very negative one-sided portrayal of the Japanese. Amélie chooses not to mention her life outside work at all, which gave the story a very narrow, claustrophobic quality, which in artistic terms could be thought quite effective.

Nothomb, who is on her own admission quite eccentric and clearly enjoys attention, has become something of a cult novelist with some, but is considered by others to be overrated. I tend to agree with the latter view. The novel could have produced a much more nuanced, informative, thought-provoking analysis of cultural differences. However, this slim novella with big print is a quick read, and will develop your French skills (useful idioms and colloquialisms) if read in the original.
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on 16 October 2015
As someone who had the experience of working in Japan for a Japanese organisation for two years a few years before the author I was interested by the subject matter. Stupeur et tremblements is a memoir of the author's year spent working for a major Japanese company. If you haven't worked in Japan you may think she's exaggerating but I'm pretty sure she isn't. There were so many things that struck a chord with me. It is fatally easy to make a mistake in Japan and they can be brutally unforgiving. I found myself cringing and mentally screaming "no don't do it" at various points as she blundered horribly. A salutary read for anyone thinking of working for a Japanese organisation in Japan. Her writing style is very clear and the language is reasonably straightforward for anyone with a reasonable standard of French. I read the kindle edition and there seemed to be few typos.
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on 5 July 2015
This is an excellent book for people (and not only!) who are interested in getting to know Japan from a little bit different angle. Of course Nathalie, being an artistic soul and a writer, exaggerates here and there, but a lot of her observations of the work life in Japan are spot on. I really enjoy her style and found Stupeur et tremblements an excellent read.
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on 25 August 2013
The matter with Amelie Nothomb is pretty simple, either you don't like her, but if you do, it is a love for life. I devour all her books as soon as they appear on the market. This latest cover is different from the first edition where it was the face of the author herself summarising in her expression the whole book and the title. This cover is from the movie based on the book, which is good as well, but writings of Amelie need to be read for her style, and preferably in French. This book is perhaps the best of her (along with Biographie de la faim) and while it is short relative to the numbers of pages, it will leave you thinking for a long while. It is a brilliant depiction of the Japanese corporate culture, and with an absolutely terrific sense of humour. But the best of the book is the heroine herself, the writer, with whom you will definitely fall in love.
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on 3 October 2015
A delightful if short novel on the work ethics in a large Japanese trading company. I thought I had a reasonable understanding of Japanese work culture but this work is mind-boggingly eye opening. Good stuff!
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on 19 June 2013
I found this book encouraging to read.Not being a very confident French reader ( having only started to learn as an adult) I didn't have to sit with the dictionary by my side for every word. I haven't finished reading it that might change later.I'm pleased I bought this book.
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on 12 January 2010
This book is surprisingly good - the funny, cruel and poignant story of a foreigner in Japan. Having lived there myself it did strike a chord. I was surprised that the author doesn't really touch on her life outside the office at all, so if you're looking for an insight into Japanese Culture as a whole then you'll be disappointed. A brave book. Am considering reading Nothomb's other titles on the back of this one.
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on 20 August 2010
I was advised to buy this book as homework during the summer holidays. It is ideal and it helps you realise you know more french that you realise. A good story too.
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on 22 December 2013
A brilliant and provocative short novel. Both searching and funny. Warmly recommended - I shall read more of Amelie Norhomb.

John Catlow
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