Thursday, September 25, 2014

William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize 2013 - 2014

The 2013-2014 winner of the William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize has recently been announced through the Prize's website. The winning translation by Edith Sarra and Yasuko Ito Watt of - 3/11: Temporary Shelter by Takuya TANAKA is available to read via the site along with an introduction to the text and an afterword.

William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize 2013-2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Crimson Thread of Abandon - Stories by Terayama Shūji

For those familiar with Terayama and his poetry, films, (most famously perhaps, Emperor of Tomato Ketchup and Pastoral: Death in the Country), and his plays, this book will be a welcome addition, in some ways it could be said to be able to appreciate the book without considering it in light with the rest of Terayama's output and life could be a difficult thing to do, but whilst reading these stories it's hard not to hear echoes of the music of Julius Arnest Seaer playing somewhere in their backgrounds. To read these stories you'll maybe finding yourself putting the external world on hold for a while, entering Terayama's world is like finding yourself in a slightly phantasmic version of Lewis Carroll's, spread across them some characters reappear, Mizue, who could be described perhaps as Terayama's Alice, and also there's Smokey the cat, although references aside, in Terayama there's a feeling that eventually everything becomes subverted. Throughout these stories characters appear that feature in his films, sailors, boxers, travelling troupes, another repeating motif is the game of hide and seek, in one, Hide-and-Not-Go-Seek, the narrator plays the game and taking a dislike to one boy sees him hide down a drain, seeing a lorry reversing which is carrying a load of lumber he instructs the driver to dump it on top of the man hole cover, the game finishes without the boy in the drain re-appearing, unnervingly, much to the indifference to the narrator. Years later he returns to his hometown and passing the drain on a nostalgic stroll he peeks inside half expecting to find the boy's bones, entering it he struggles to see but looking up the boy, un-aged, appears and closes the cover down on him and the sound of heavy objects being placed on the cover is heard. Reading these stories you get the slight feeling that you're being assaulted by the breadth of Terayama's flights of inexhaustible imagination, and they are to be wondered at.

Another re-occurring element is that of the cut out, characters come into existence by having their names cut from other books, in another story words are brought to life by being cut out of the page, a conundrum arises with the word love, how will it manifest itself when it's cut out and appears in the physical world?, Terayama offers possible answers to the reader in the style of a number of multiple choice options, we decide, this switch in offering the reader a perspective on the creation process is offered in other stories, how would we write it, he offers us the pen?. But if you were to pick up this book without any prior knowledge of Terayama or the rest of his oeuvre you'd be hard pressed not to be caught in his world, the stories have a slightly quick fire-ness to them, characters can be introduced in the time it takes to finish the end of a sentence, their directions take turns into different trajectories in equal amounts of space. In Flame a town suffers the fate that all the fires go out, to the extent that a neighbouring volcano sinks into smoking dormancy, one of the characters ponders as to whether the town actually had a spark to begin with?, a plot develops that a flame will be kidnapped from a neighbouring town, but the plot is threatened by those committing a subterfuge, which includes a flock of dive bombing birds, but within the story lies another added layer, that of the theme of the purity of the flame of love.

Throughout these stories it feels that conventional storytelling is being dispensed with, although many of the stories retain preoccupations with the nature of fate, of course it's usually unfair and cruel, they retain though the feeling of being fables, albeit being distortedly viewed through a bell jar. Eraser, is another story where an everyday object becomes imbued with magical powers that provokes a double take at the commonplace, coming across an eraser that has the ability to erase physical objects, Johnny the Sailor jealously uses it to erase all the men in the life of the woman he falls in love with, but to the story Terayama adds a twist of fate that adds a further resonance to the tale. In The Elusive Milena, a camera is discovered to be able to take photographs 10 years into the future, and for all those who don't appear in their photograph it points in only one direction concerning their fates. A last note on another motif that appears in a number of these stories, that of characters multiplying, returning home to find themselves already there, being spotted out walking the streets when they haven't left their rooms, this gets it's deepest exploration in Remy's Quantum Realities, in which Remy multiples many times over, Terayama works in a reference to Euclid's axioms and leaves us the story with some homework to do at the end, how many Remy's appeared in this story?. A beguiling collection, the book is published by Merwin Asia, an independent publisher, and is translated by Elizabeth L. Armstrong, who also provides an introduction.

The Crimson Thread of Abandon at Merwin Asia          

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ravine and Other Stories by Furui Yoshikichi

Couldn't help from noticing that Shinchosha celebrates 110 years of it's literary magazine Shinchō this year, from reading a review of their anniversary issue from May, the issue appears to include Kenzaburō Ōe and Furui Yoshikichi in conversation, which prompted me to turn to reading Furui again, as I've been meaning to since reading his short story Wedlock some time ago. As far as I've seen there are only three translations of Furui in English, Ravine and Other Stories, translated by Meredith McKinney, White Haired Melody, a novel, also translated by Meredith McKinney and also Child of Darkness: Yoko and Other Stories, translated by Donna George Storey, which contains Furui's Akutagawa Prize winning story, Yoko, aside from the Akutagawa Prize, Furui has also received the Tanizaki Prize, the Mainichi Cultural Prize, the Yomiuri Literary Prize and also the Kawabata Prize for his story, Nakayama-zaka/On Nakayama Hill, a translation of which is included here. Furui has been associated with the generation of writers often referred to as being from the naiko no sedai or the introverted generation -  内向の世代, spanning from the late sixties to the mid seventies, who would adopt more of an introverted style of writing, turning away from the overtly politically subjects of the times, the term was first used by the literary critic Odagiri Hideo.

In it's opening passages I couldn't help being nudged into recalling another story when starting to read Ravine, of it's remote mountain scape with the sound of a voice being heard, and of the narrative recalling a story of skeletal remains being found with all flesh rotted away save for a living tongue remaining within it's skull, this opening is reminiscent of one I'm sure by Nakagami Kenji. Ravine though turns from this to describing two climbers on a memorial climb for their fellow climber, Koike, resting in a cabin for the night they hear footsteps advancing outside and a man staggering in, falls down before them, dead. The story is overlaid with flashbacks of a climb all three had taken and of meeting a woman in the mountains who appears to take a suicidal leap into the sea, although she is rescued by a passing fishing boat, in places ambiguities arise as to the possibility of which figure that appears may represent which character more fully described within the story, who is the dying man?, perhaps this event appears to act as a spur to the subsequent recollections, some events are maybe presented as disconnected in Furui's stories, but they act to contribute to a thematic whole. Another element of this story is of Koike's marriage, the story has many enigmatic turns, and as with the other stories in this collection, the reader also gets the impression that although Furui's writing is full of acute and close-up observations it's not until finishing them that you can obtain the wider focus of their intent, whilst reading them despite their fine eye for intricateness they retain a sense of being impressionistic.

The next story, Grief Field/Aihara, also appears in Child of Darkness, translated by Donna George Storey as The Plain of Sorrows, the narrator relates the deteriorating state of a friend who has an incurable illness who disappears from his family to a woman whom he has been having an affair, although when with her he wanders to a plot of land allocated for re-development. The theme that the story seems to explore is that of the space between physical places and locations with that of the protagonist's psychological sense of their own grief, as well as the dying friend at the centre of this story, who, it could also be described as being in a state of grieving for himself, there are figures from each of the character's past whose passings are also subjects of grief, a sister who died in a love suicide, a mother dying prematurely, as well as feeling grief over these loses the protagonist's have acute perhaps subdued repressed feelings of guilt, as Furui's stories progress developments are revealed and hinted at but the fuller picture is often left for the after read.

The Bellwether stands out here as the narrative sees no real or direct character interaction with each other, being a fictional observational piece in which the narrator shares their thoughts on the nature of crowds on busy commuter stations and trains by making comparisons to the stampede of wild horses. Through these observations the narrator examines the nature of the individual in the crowd, of how interpretations of each other are made and envisages the crowd amidst and provoked into panic. Examining the crowd, the narrator's vision fixates on a single man whom he seems to encounter by chance at various points as he wanders in this narrative, observations of more individuals he sees turn to recollecting a man from the narrator's workplace, thoroughly competent in his work but 'initiates nothing by himself'. At a point in the narrative there appears a concluding observation that in order to preserve our own sense of equilibrium in a crowd we search out for the faces of 'docile sensible types' to reassure ourselves, the narrator later relates becoming involved in a skirmish between protesting students and the police, and of an unsuspecting visitor who visits him after being hospitalized to reiterate the point made earlier in the story. The Bellwether seems to display another characteristic in Furui's writing in that of his interest in exploring differing points of perspective, and of examining how different people view different people.

The collection concludes with On Nakayama Hill, which was awarded the Kawabata Prize, the story in a way has two main characters, one an old man, who is approaching death from an incurable disease, and also a young woman oversleeping on a train and finding herself a few stops away from where she wanted to be. The scene where the two first encounter each other has an interestingly described moment, where the old man grabs her to stop himself from falling over, and of her finding she can hear human voices emanating from him, these though are from the radio he listens to through his headphone, (s?). The old man walks up the hill to place bets at the horse races and due to his frail state asks her to go on ahead to make the bet for him after stopping at a tea shop. Furui's prose is glacial in slowly revealing the back drops of the pair's lives, of her uncertain affair and of the old man's intuitiveness, Furui's prose leaves the impression that nothing of the author is between the characters, the slowly observed unfolding of the stories events and the reader. As with this story there is the appearance of common themes to Furui's writing, the occurrence of aging and of ill health with the over arching and explorative theme being the nature of human mortality.  

Ravine and Other Stories at Stone Bridge Press


Thursday, September 4, 2014

and the winner is............

After putting all the names into the bag and picking one out at random, I'm pleased to announce that the lucky winner of a copy of Bullfight by Inoue Yasushi published by Pushkin Press, is Rise of in lieu of a field guide, so congratulations, the copy of Bullfight will be on it's way to you, looking forward to reading your post. My sincerest commiserations to those who were unlucky this time, but many thanks for entering and showing an interest, perhaps another giveaway post will appear again.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Hunting Gun by Inoue Yasushi

The Hunting Gun/Ryōjū was Inoue's first book, published in 1949, Inoue received the Akutagawa Prize the following year for his book, Bullfight, although brief The Hunting Gun is remarkable for it's penetrating psychological portraits of three women, whose three perspectives are conveyed in three letters that are passed to the narrator at the beginning of this epistolary novella. What might strike the reader as feeling slightly out of place is the descriptions of the Western garb and paraphernalia of hunting, the English gun and cloth, for a novella of it's time these might've carried a slight surreality and out of place-ness. After contacting the narrator after being provoked by reading a poem he had written for a hunting magazine, Misugi Josuke passes him three letters, although the narrator is suspicious that Misugi might be a man of consequence and bearing lets it be known that he has changed all the names from their true ones, so we are left to contemplate the possibility that perhaps Misugi is not even Misugi. The first of the letters is from Misugi's niece, Shoko, who relates the events of the passing of her mother, Saiko, as her letter to her uncle progresses the first clues as to what lies at the novella's centre begin to come into focus. Shoko relates that she knows of their secret through reading her mother's frenetically written diary, this sadness is depicted poetically as she likens it to resembling a petal frozen in a paperweight given to her as a gift, this is one of a number of poetical images that Inoue imbues his prose with a disarming effect, and these resonate throughout, it's also interesting to contemplate that the narrative is brought into being through the reading of a poetical work. Another enigmatic character and event that lingers slightly out of sight of the novella's main narrative is of Shoko's father, Kadota Reiichiro, and of the more distant mystery of what had happened between him and Saiko that had caused them to part, all of these ruminations of failed marriages must of challenged the sensibilities of readers of the day.

Midori's letter adds another jigsaw piece of perspective to the story, wife of Misugi, her letter is both embittered with instances of their loveless marriage, the letter, paradoxically she envisages being the only love letter between them, and also in parts being confessional, seizing the opportunity in her proposed severance with him to provide portraits of the men that have in the past have potentially stole her affections or have been the object of her desires, these are varying both in being real and being projected. She describes seeing a portrait of a naked wild man living wild with a herd of goats in the Syrian desert, the jockey Tsumura whose eye were fixated on her, and also of the artist Matsuyo, all of these offer passing snapshot portraits of desires unfulfilled and hinted at, in some ways perhaps attempts at readdressing the act of betrayal that lies at the story's centre. Along with her unburdening letter there is included another symbolic snapshot motif that links the letters, that of an embroidered haori patterned with a thistle worn by Saiko, which represents her and Misugi's relationship.

Saiko's letter is the last, posthumously she describes the burden of her and Misugi's deception whilst giving a fuller picture to scenes hinted to in the previous letters, she recalls the night of wearing the haori, and of a stay in Atami, and within the letter Inoue imbues his prose with more poetical imagery, whilst staying at Atami the pair spy a burning fishing boat out at sea, and in spite of the casualties they envisage a cruel beauty in the burning vessel, later this same image is associated with Saiko's notion of womanhood. Between the presentation of these letters Inoue passes the right of judge to the reader, across the letters in The Hunting Gun we are given a portrait of the weakness and frailties of the human heart with all it's uncontrollable desires falling victim to itself, translated again by Michael Emmerich.

The Hunting Gun at Pushkin Press

Inoue Yasushi Literary Museum                                   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A chance to win a copy of Bullfight by Inoue Yasushi - a give away post.

After a few years blogging, and also to aptly mark the recent publication of The Life of A Counterfeiter, the third book by Inoue Yasushi from Pushkin Press, recently read here, it gives me great pleasure to be able to offer readers with my first give away post, a chance to receive and review a copy of Bullfight, the Akutagawa Prize winning story by Inoue Yasushi, translated by Michael Emmerich, via the generosity of Pushkin Press. All you need to do is to leave a comment to register your interest then send me an email, (via my profile), with your postal address and after 10 days, (or there about, apologies - this is the speed I work at!), I'll pop all names into a hat or bag and then pick the name of the lucky recipient, I'm happy to post anywhere on the globe, but obviously there is also the obligatory provision - that once you've read the book you post a review of it on either your own, or your favourite website or blog so that I have somewhere to link on to after the event. So there you go, that's all there is to it, if you'd like the opportunity to win and read this copy of a post war masterpiece leave a comment stating your interest and then drop us an email with a contact address - good luck and all the best.
Bullfight at Pushkin Press  

Friday, August 15, 2014

文豪の家 - Bungou no Ie

A book that I've been intending for a while to give a brief synopsis of, Bugou no Ie, published earlier last year offers an insight into the houses lived in by a number of famous writers, know the house - know the writer, as the obi of the book mentions, perhaps if you wanted a literary tour of Japan this book would make a great companion, I like how the door behind the title is slightly ajar inviting us in.  The book offers a snapshot of houses lived in by writers mostly of Meiji to mid twentieth century, late Showa, there is a mixture of black and white and color photographs, along with floor plan layouts of the houses and notes of artefacts of the authors. Here's a list of the writer's whose houses are featured, Mokichi Saito, Takeo Arishima, Dazai Osamu, Haruo Sato, Yasushi Inoue, Soseki Natsume, Naoya Shiga, Hakusha Kitahara, Takuboku Ishikawa, Toson Shimazaki, Doppo Kunikida, Ranpo Edogawa, Kojin Shimomura, Yakumo Koizumi, Seicho Matsumoto, Junichiro Tanizaki, Rohan Koda, Nobuko Yoshiya, Saneatsu Mushanokoji, Sakutaro Hagiwara, Katai Tayama, Saisei Muro, Fumiko Hayashi, Kyoshi Takahama, Ogai Mori, Ashihei Hiino, Shoyo Tsubouchi, Kunio Yanagita, Tatsuo Hori, Roka Tokutomi, Bokusui Wakayama, Shiki Masaoka, Kenkichi Nakamura, Saika Tomita, Kenji Miyazawa, Yaeko Nogami. Probably out of these the house lived in by Yaeko Nogami in Nagano is amongst my favourite, an old property it's roof is thatched, situated near a tree, leaves have fallen on it, giving the impression that the roof has created it's own ecological system, with a mixture of thatch, moss and leaves. The book is published from x-knowledge, a publisher whose focus is on architecture, they publish the magazine, My Home +, who have also earlier this year published a companion book to this one focusing on Literary Landscapes, which looks at landscapes associated with authors and their works - another to hunt out.  
the book at and also the companion book Literary Landscapes   

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Reading history from the past year

Recently noticed that it's been a little over a year since updating a list of books read outside of Japanese translations, so here's a list of what I've been reading -

Patrick Suskind - The Pigeon
D.B.C Pierre - Vernon God Little
Diego Marani - New Finnish Grammar
Gabriel Josipovici - Everything Passes
Paul Leppin - Severin's Journey into the Dark
Vladimir Odoevsky - Two Days in the Life of the Terrestrial Globe
Ferdinand von Schirach - The Collini Case
Andre Brink - The Blue Door
Jerzy Andrzejewski - The Appeal
Jorge Luis Borges - Seven Nights
Mary Butts - Armed With Madness
Gert Ledig - Payback
Denton Welch - A Voice Through A Cloud
W.G Sebald and Jan Peter Tripp - Unrecounted
Bruno Schulz - Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass
Andrey Platonov - The Foundation Pit
Tao Lin - Eeeee Eee Eeee
Pierre Michon - Small Lives
Rene Crevel - Babylon
Georges Bataille - Story of the Eye
Andre Malraux - The Walnut Trees of Altenburg
Ted Hughes - The Hawk in the Rain
J.D Salinger - For Esme - With Love and Squalor
Marghanita Laski - The Victorian Chaise Longue
Denton Welch - In Youth is Pleasure
Sandor Marai - Esther's Inheritance
Maruerite Yourcenar - Alexis
Geroge Simenon - The Little Man From Archangel
Charles Simic - Selected Poems
Cicely Hamilton - William - An Englishman
Ernst Junger - Eumeswil
John Williams - Stoner
Jeremias Gotthelf - The Black Spider
Marguerite Dumas - Writing
John Cheever - Falconer
Adolfo Bioy Casares - The Invention of Morel
Henri Barbusse - Under Fire
Herbert Read - The Green Child
Sylvia Plath - The Bell Jar
Erico Verissimo - Night
Igor Vishnevetsy - Leningrad
Sylvia Plath - The Colossus
Andre Gide - Strait is the Gate
Odon von Horvath - Youth Without God
David Edmonds and John Eidinow - Wittgenstein's Poker
Greg Baxter - Munich Airport
Clarice Lispector - The Passion According to G.H
Alexander Lernet-Holenia - I Was Jack Mortimer 
Antal Szerb - The Third Tower
Clarice Lispector - Near to the Wild Heart
Thornton Wilder - The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Italo Calvino - Under the Jaguar Sun
Clarice Lispector - Hour of the Star
Pierre Drieu la Rochelle - The Comedy of Charleroi and Other Stories
Italo Svevo - As a Man Grows Older
Jean Cocteau - The Difficulty of Being
Jean Genet - Funeral Rites
Paolo Volponi - The Worldwide Machine
Colette - The Ripening Seed

I guess this year's discovered author for me has been Clarice Lispector, I've a copy of Agua Viva on the way, and then perhaps afterwards I'm going to turn to her recent biography by Benjamin Moser. Recently I've I think my reading has changed in pattern, I feel that I'll get hooked by an author and then feel that I have to read their available works, perhaps this started after reading Lispector, but after reading Genet again recently I'll turn to his other novels, although I read Miracle of a Rose years ago I feel it's time to check out his other novels, with regards to Japanese authors, Soseki and Abe Kobo are two authors that I feel that I still need to catch up with their works. Another French novelist that I'd like to turn to is Jean-Louis Curtis, whose The Forest Of The Night, translated by Nora Wydenbruk, I'm aiming to read soon, which apparently is available to read online.     

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Life Of A Counterfeiter - by Yasushi Inoue



Life Of A Counterfeiter is the third in Pushkin Press's recent books from Inoue Yasushi, all of which have been translated by Michael Emmerich, although Life Of A Counterfeiter has been previously translated by Leon Picon, this new edition is also accompanied by two stories new in translation, Reeds and Mr Goodall's Gloves, all of these originally appeared in Japan in the 1950's. The shifting focus of perspective in Life of A Counterfeiter is fantastically subtle, the narrator is asked by the family of renowned painter, Onuki Geigaku, to write his biography, having passed away in 1938 the project is postponed by the war's intervention. The narrator is a journalist for an Osaka paper, which puts the narrative a few degrees closer in relation to Inoue's own experiences, whilst on a research trip with Geigaku's son and heir, Takuhiko, visiting the family homes of those who had purchased Geigaku's paintings they discover a discrepancy in the family seal on some of the paintings they view, after a previous reading of Geigaku's diary and a bit of detective work the character of forger Hara Hosen begins to emerge. Once Geigaku's friend, the story shifts from Geigaku to being a side glance biography of Hosen who falls into forging many paintings, passing them off as being that by the hand of Geigaku, the story traces him from forger to amateur dabbler as a firework maker. Life Of A Counterfeiter is a finely conceived piece of distilled portraiture, imbued with a slight melancholy, which casts a glance at the twists of fate, of how one man succeeds and another falls into obscurity, albeit one of a subtle notoriety.
Reeds is a slightly more fragmentary story which subtly examines notions of memory and attachment theory, the story begins with the narrator relating the story of a kidnapped boy and of his father who is trying to locate him, although their true relationship with each other begins to slide into ambiguity when it becomes apparent the child was adopted, this fragmentary opening begins to give way to the narrator's own recollections of instances from his own childhood, one in particular of being very young laying out on a bank next to a lake, of boats moored and of remembering a man and woman being very close to each other, he later acknowledges what they were really doing, and after asking his mother as to the woman's identity the only woman she can surmise it could have been is Aunt Omitsu, who was seen as bringing shame on the family due to her lewd conduct, Mitsu ends up dying prematurely. The story bears some common motifs seen in other of Inoue's stories, of extended families, official and unofficial, a journalist working at an Osaka newspaper, and the mention of Hokuriku. An interesting additional motif to this story is that of the narrator's recollections of playing the card game of matching pairs with his Grandmother, who is not a blood relative, the narrator in a slightly disguised way observes the similarity with individual memory with that of holding a single card without another to match it with, which is the subtle metaphorical master stroke to this at times affecting story. 
Mr Goodall's Gloves shares it's central character with Reeds in Grandmother Kano, perhaps the narrator could also be the same, a journalist working for an Osaka newspaper, this time however the location of the story is set in Nagasaki. In some ways it slightly resembles the title story in structure, that in it, set slightly off stage is a renowned artist, a calligrapher - Matsumoto Jun. The narrator arrives in Nagasaki to report on the city in the aftermath of the bomb, staying at an inn the narrator comes across Matsumoto's calligraphy which unlocks memories of Grandmother Kano, a student of Matsumoto, who is at the centre of this story. Some themes that feature in the previous story can be seen by degrees again in Mr Goodall's Gloves, of the distances between official and unofficial family and being seen as an 'unofficial' family member, the feeling that Kano is living a marginalised existence can be felt. These recollections lead to the narrator wandering through the foreigner's cemeteries of the city, and of the narrator discovering the grave of a Goodall which unlocks memories of Kano relating an episode of a grand state occasion, of the obtaining of the gloves, and of a foreigner also called Goodall, the story subtly intertwines these lives and uses a subtle symbolism in the form of Goodall's gloves in representing differing themes  and instances to those who encounter them. Set against the possibility of them being the same man and amidst these speculations is the almost ethereal figure of Grandmother Kano, with her unofficial status, these stories subtle probe themes of tangible existences and the possibility of connecting lives, in a way that perhaps could be best described as portraiture within portraiture, a rewarding addition to Inoue in English, many thanks to Pushkin Press.      
Life Of A Counterfeiter at Pushkin Press

Monday, June 30, 2014

male actor outside of Japan?

In this post I was wondering who is the most famous contemporary Japanese male actor known outside of Japan, I read this news via Asahi AJW about accolades heaped upon the film Watashi no otoko directed by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, which was recently awarded the Golden George Prize at the 36th Moscow International Film festival, Asano Tadanobu also received an award for best actor for the film, I'll let you search/google which award he won. This news lead me to contemplate who is the most famous male Japanese actor known outside of Japan?, of course I'd also like to know which female actress is considered the most famous. Asano is an actor whose performances I've deeply enjoyed over the years, although I've not seen all of his films, although each time I've seen one of his films I usually find myself readjusting which of his films is my favourite, for me he is like a mixture between Mifune and Eastwood, in his earlier films the less his dialogue the more he seems to express, which is quite a rarity in contemporary cinema. Who might you think?.