Friday, 14 August 2009

The Glass Slipper and Other Stories

The first story in 'The Wandering Minstrel' has a very Murakami-esque beginning with the character awakening from a strange dream. In it he finds himself in a field with grey cows dotted around, with him he has two babies, who he feels are his own. The field is like a Spanish bull ring, encircling it are men aged between 30-50, each holding a bottle of milk, and moaning that their wives don't give them enough money. The main character in 'The Wandering Minstrel' feels very Murakami-ish too, although you get the impression he's struggling through life, you get the impression he could handle whatever might come his way. He's very laid back too, when a proposal of marriage is arranged by his boss, (whom he fears), his main concern is, does she have a round face or an oval face?, he is working as a translator, and spends most of his time avoiding scorn from his colleagues. But just like Murakami, there's a lot more to it than just cows, (or sheep), Shotaro Yasuoka gives us a great portrait of a man living within the parameter's of his fears, to the extent that he tries to play one off against the  other, his fear of cows, seems to lessen the fear of his boss.
The second story too, the title story, 'The Glass Slipper' opens with quite a surreal piece of dialogue, although in a story like 'Homework' the tone changes a bit, a closely observed story, it's one of my favourites. It is set near the end of the war, and centres around a boy's experiences at school, and growing up in a family which is facing financial ruin. Yasuoka Shotaro has a great ability portraying the rites of passage that most children go through, being bullied, realizing he can cheat money from the woman at the counter at the local baths, but of course set against the backdrop of the war, not only the boy's story is covered, but also of the whole family, Uncle's committing suicide due to stock market crashes. 'A Room in Tsukiji', is a sometimes humorous look at the thwarted dreams of a group of boys, influenced by Komai Kumakichi, (the groups leader/source of inspiration), they drop out of their Kyoto high school, and head for Tsukiji in Tokyo, to try and live the artistic life in the manner of 'old Edo', although none of them are quite sure what this actually might entail. After episodes of bedbugs, poverty and strange room mates, (a writer of onomatopoeic poetry), the group try and extort money from the girlfriend of one of the group, which comes to nothing, failing in an anti climatic way.

'The Glass Slipper and Other Stories' is quite a slim volume, but well worth exploring, I think most Murakami fans might see some familiar things going on in these stories, especially the opening story's dream, it seems like a metaphor, or maybe just a strange dream, that combined with well crafted story lines, that well convey each of the character's dilemmas. The stories selected here were written by Shotaro Yasuoka between 1951-54 and are mostly set during the war and the immediate years after it, but interestingly these stories focus on the individual's stories. Shotaro Yasuoka has received many literary awards including the Akutagawa Prize, Noma Prize, and in 2001 received the Order of Culture.

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