Thursday, 10 November 2011

White and Purple

Keijo - Image from wiki Commons

White and Purple/Shiro to Murasaki, a short story by Sata Ineko was originally written in 1950, (the same year that the Korean War broke out), Sata Ineko is an author not widely translated into English so it was an insightful and in many ways a revelatory experience  to read this story translated by Samuel Perry. A novel I was reminded of whilst reading was Hayashi Fumiko's novel from 1951, Ukigumo/Floating Clouds, both narratives feature female characters recollecting their lives whilst living abroad in Japanese occupied territories, the stories in each of their own perspectives examine both colonialism and to a degree the post colonial conscience. White and Purple's main narrator, Osawa Yoshiko, has these memories prompted by hearing the name of a town  mentioned on a radio broadcast, the narration begins with observations of Yoshiko's appearance and physical mannerisms from the nameless person that Yoshiko  recounts her experiences to. Yoshiko recalls Suwon, a place whose ancient splendour is still conveyed in the ruins of an ancient palace, she evokes the tranquility of the place with herons, children playing and shockingly singing a Japanese song about the signing of a treaty at Port Arthur and of the famous General Nogi, she describes her passage from Kyushu to Keijo, (the Japanese name of occupied Seoul), and finding a job at the Railway Bureau of the Governor General. Yoshiko describes the attitudes of the Japanese community, with an exaggerated sense of self importance which soon turns to feelings of superiority of the Koreans. As the story progresses the relationship with a Korean colleague, Den Teiki and Yoshiko could be seen as mirroring and encapsulating the events occurring around them as Japan imposes the name order and begins to tighten it's control over the country, both geographically and culturally. But Yoshiko is an astute observer of these events occurring around them and these instances of cultural intrusion don't escape her eye, but we are left wondering to how much to a degree this effects the image she  has  of her own identity, she sees the beauty in the Korean people and landscape, but still seems to be rooted in a sense of superiority that she herself is unaware of, Yoshiko is a finely drawn character. Den Teiki, (who Yoshiko describes as a true intellectual), has studied in Japan and is a devotee of Japanese literature asking Yoshiko about the nuances of reading Murasaki and Sei Shonagon, and a particular Shimazaki Toson short story, together they go a trip to Mt Kumgang, during the trip another subject of contention arises when Den Teiki observes that, 'all Koreans want to visit Mt Kumgang before they die', the fact that so many Japanese tourists do so reasserts their dominance on the peninsula they now regard as their own. During their conversation Den Teiki also confesses that she is working on a novel but is uncertain which language to write it in, the talk sees Yoshiko hint at the linguistic superiority of her language, the relationship between the two women is a precariouly balanced one.  The translation of this story won Samuel Perry the 2010 William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize organised through The University of Chicago, this story and an introduction to the text by Samuel Perry, and also the other winners, including translations of Nakajima Atsushi, Kim Saryang and Chikamatsu Monzaemon are available to read online via the Prize's webpage.

Sata Ineko at Wikipedia

William F. Sibley Prize at The University of Chicago

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