Tuesday, 15 December 2009

A Late Chrysanthemum

A collection containing stories selected and translated by Lane Dunlop, twenty one stories by seven authors, many of the stories that appear here are included in various anthologies, but still an interesting collection. The cover is from a woodblock by Masako Tanaka. Originally published by North Point Press back in 1986, and then republished in an edition by Tuttle in 1988, I think. The four stories by Shiga Naoya appear in 'The Paper Door & other Stories' which I've still not read yet, 'At Kinosaki' in particular, a writer involved in an accident with a trolley car, recuperates at the hot springs in Kinosaki, he spends time reflecting on his near death experience, one morning spotting a dead wasp on the roof of the entryway,and seeing the indifference the other wasps have regarding the corpse of their fellow he begins to find an unexpected repose. Then an episode with a duck, killed by children throwing stones at it, prompts the narrator further into his examinations of mortality. Ozaki Shiro (1897-1964), an author I can't find much available in English, although, Irena Powell's 'A Writer's War: Ozaki Shiro in China 1937-39', could be a good starting point, if I could track down a copy, has two stories. In 'The Wagtails Nest', Ozaki intertwines Minasato's growing desire for a young woman with that of his pinching of a wagtail's chicks, although he suspects a fellow villager maybe pinching from the nest too. In his mind he knows that like the young wagtails in the nest, the young woman will one day be snatched away from him. Kawabata's three short pieces are also in 'Palm of the Hand Stories'.
Another author included here that I can't find much else by is, Shimaki Kensaku, I think maybe his first story 'Leprosy' is included in some other collections, but he has four stories included in this one all have an autobiographical tone, observations on the comings and goings of insects, mainly seen from his sick bed cause a series of introspective episodes, my favourite piece 'The Black Cat', the narrator (Shimaki?), recuperating in bed reading of a mysterious huge cat in a nature magazine, is soon plagued by a real life menacing cat invading his house. Shimaki's pieces reminded me a lot of the observational pieces of Dazai who also appears later in this collection. Next is the title story, A Late Chrysanthemum, by Hayashi Fumiko, a poetess also famous for her 1951 novel 'Floating Clouds'. Kin, an ageing woman, ex-geisha who lives alone with her mute maid receives a visit from a man from her past, Tabe, now married to a young woman, is in financial trouble, reduced to begging for money from her to the degree that his has to keep his murderous intentions in check. This is the longest story in the volume and it's a great sample of Hayashi's writing which I'd like to read more of. Dazai Osamu probably needs no introduction, his four short pieces have surfaced in other collections too, also by various translators, 'Memories' appears in 'Crackling Mountain and Other Stories' translated by James O'Brien, (another book for reading next year), a piece about his childhood, focusing on his observations of his immediate family. Also here is 'A Golden Picture' which appears also in 'Self Portraits' translated by Ralph F. McCarthy, his if I remember rightly was a longer translation. Included is Dazai's short story 'Chiyojo' which I can't actually seem to see elsewhere.
Lastly Kobo Abe's three stories - 'The Red Cocoon', (from 1950), 'The Flood' and 'The Stick' appear elsewhere. In 'The Stick', a man accidently falls from a railing, when he lands he's transformed into a stick, picked up by a teacher and then is the object of philosophical inquiry by two students. Interestingly Kobo Abe is missing in the 'notes on the authors' section. I think this interesting collection is now out of print, which is a shame, as juxtaposes some well known stories/authors alongside some lesser known names. After reading collections like these, I usually end up wanting to track down several other books as a result, which I guess I'll do.

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