Recently I unexpectedly received an advance copy of Jay Rubin's translation of books I and II of 1Q84 by Murakami, (which I'm nearly 200 pages or so into), which is really great although it has turned my reading plans onto a slightly different tangent. But a book I've been meaning to post on, although I've not yet completely read in it's entirety, is Three Stories by Nakano Shigeharu, translated by Brett de Bary and part of the Cornell East Asia series, and through the Cornell University's East Asia Series the book is available to read online, (click on the image above or the link below to read the collection). Nakano Shigeharu's life and writing was witness to a large portion of twentieth century Japan, from early Showa to well into the post war years. In Brett de Bary's introduction we learn that Shigeharu was a member of the Communist Party, and that he was imprisoned in the early 1930's, as nationalist fervour mounted Shigeharu was arrested for thought crimes, he was released after complying with the minimum requirements for tenko or ideological conversion. The three stories here found their bases from autobiography, Nakano was raised in a farming community and the story included here A House in the Village/Mura no Ie, (1935), tells of a fictionalized retelling of Nakano's, (envisioned through the character Benji), return to his family home after being imprisoned as a Communist, and examines his relationship with his father and in turn their differing political views, the new of Benji with that of the traditional of his father. Nakano initially began his writing life as a poet, he met Akutagawa who encouraged him to continue to write and later won the Yomiuri Prize in 1960 in light of two of his novels, Muragimo/Gut Feelings of 1954 and Nashi no Hana/Pear Blossoms, published in 1960. Brett de Bary notes in her introduction of how his prose was touched with a poetical sensibility, especailly seen here in The Crest Painter of Hagi, where Nakano would include scenes that contained word associations, (engo in classical poetry), which thematical link to memories of the narrator.
In The Crest Painter of Hagi, set some years after the war, the narrator is sent to the remote town of Hagi to mediate between a married couple, noting that the most notable building in the town is that of the Academy of Yoshida Shoin, the narrator walks around the town and comes across a large Edo styled house, after reading the name plate the narrator realizes that it belongs to a leading Conservative Party member active in the Diet, this conjures up in the narrator's mind memories of a wealthy family of his own village and the festivals performed at their home, the narrator recalls the small portions of rice the performers received as a payment. Entering a sweet store, the abundance of sweets provoke memories of austerity of Tokyo in the early war years, a scene returns to him when he was carrying a box of eggs on a crowded train, amongst the crowds the eggs crack and he sucks at the broken shells to prevent the waste, he also recalls his move to Sumoto at the invitation of a friend. Behind these recollections he is searching out a present for his daughter, the times before when he has travelled he's forgotton to buy a souvenir for her, and this makes him begin to doubt his worth as a father. Wandering again after finding a present and a stop at the town's post office he comes across a young woman working at something which at first he can't ascertain, at first he thinks maybe she could be a watch repairer or perhaps a seal engraver, he reads a sign on her wall proclaiming - Home of War Dead. Realizing that the woman is a war widow he also discovers that the woman's work is painting the crest patterns onto haori, the story ends with the narrator contemplating the contours of the woman's face as she works.