Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ghosts














 
Nearly falling into being a collection of journal entries, memories of the narrator's childhood are pieced together into a seamless stream of recollections. As a young boy at home in his parents house with his sister, playing games with a visiting cousin, hiding during a game of hide and seek in the dark, the boy would feel his arms, not sure where his being ended and the darkness began. It's a novel that explores the peripheries of existence in a number ways. Being a story that opens, with the question, 'Why this desire to relate what we call the past?', then continues to make the comparison that as a race we have a collected mythology, so too as individuals we carry our own mythology. Through the narrators pursuit of memories were also given an impression of the place where memory fades, likewise the minutiae of their beginnings are examined, for the narrator, who has a passion for all sorts of insects, mainly winged; moths, butterflies, may bugs, etc, the sun shining through the wings of a butterfly can trigger recollections of his youth. Were told of his parents, his father was some kind of scholar, not to be disturbed when in his study, and of the library at home with it's door handle that just turns and turns, only needing a slight push to actually open it, he remembers his father's smell, mingling with the odour of books and dust. His mother lived her early years abroad and has Western tastes, the tatami being hidden under a grey carpet, he was mesmerised by a mirror in her room, and by her bottles of perfume.
By the end of the war he turns eighteen, and as a young boy he lives through the war as if on vacation, he passes the entrance exam for a high school, but works at munitions factory. Due to bereavements in the family he is adopted by an uncle, who is studying medicine. One night after taking a hot bath, he notices a huge group of moths that have collected under the light of the veranda, watching them intensely he passes out, after that he falls ill due to a kidney infection. Another uncle owns a hospital in the suburbs of Tokyo, which is a large somewhat dilapidated building, next to a newly refurbished room you could find another falling into disrepair, a strange place, 'It was also quite easy for somebody to become ill in this house and nobody know anything about it until he was better again', he explains. After his sister dies, he walks in the mountains, and sitting down, there is a zen like moment, engulfed in an all encompassing silence, the impression that time has stopped moving, he keeps returning to the mountain ranges overlooking Matsumoto plain, his increasing interest in nature and mountains leads him to journey through the Japanese Alps, turning away from his fellow man, he pursues the path of self discovery. Sleeping in traveller's huts and many nights spent under the stars, he continues to examine memory and wonders do memories die?, and discovers that some of his deeply buried memories don't change, so deep down, they are immune to the affects of passing time, the face of his sister and mother come to him. He recalls too, through pictures that a friend of the family has of his mother in Lubeck and he talks of his interest in Thomas Mann.

Morio Kita was the son of poet Mokichi Saito, who was also Akutagawa's doctor. Kita originally studied medicine, but soon gave it up to focus on writing,although going onto qualify as a doctor, and in 1958 he went on six month trip to Europe, which he wrote about. His novel 'The House of Nire', (which I hope to read in the future) won the Mainichi Prize in 1964. 'Ghosts' was first published in Japan as 1954 as 'Yurei' by publishers Bungo Shuto, and published by Kodansha in 1991, in this superb translation by Dennis Keene. The jacket cover (detail above), itself a detail of a print by Chizuko Yoshida.



 




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