Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Life Of A Counterfeiter - by Yasushi Inoue


Life Of A Counterfeiter is the third in Pushkin Press's recent books from Inoue Yasushi, all of which have been translated by Michael Emmerich, although Life Of A Counterfeiter has been previously translated by Leon Picon, this new edition is also accompanied by two stories new in translation, Reeds and Mr Goodall's Gloves, all of these originally appeared in Japan in the 1950's. The shifting focus of perspective in Life of A Counterfeiter is fantastically subtle, the narrator is asked by the family of renowned painter, Onuki Geigaku, to write his biography, having passed away in 1938 the project is postponed by the war's intervention. The narrator is a journalist for an Osaka paper, which puts the narrative a few degrees closer in relation to Inoue's own experiences, whilst on a research trip with Geigaku's son and heir, Takuhiko, visiting the family homes of those who had purchased Geigaku's paintings they discover a discrepancy in the family seal on some of the paintings they view, after a previous reading of Geigaku's diary and a bit of detective work the character of forger Hara Hosen begins to emerge. Once Geigaku's friend, the story shifts from Geigaku to being a side glance biography of Hosen who falls into forging many paintings, passing them off as being that by the hand of Geigaku, the story traces him from forger to amateur dabbler as a firework maker. Life Of A Counterfeiter is a finely conceived piece of distilled portraiture, imbued with a slight melancholy, which casts a glance at the twists of fate, of how one man succeeds and another falls into obscurity, albeit one of a subtle notoriety.

Reeds is a slightly more fragmentary story which subtly examines notions of memory and attachment theory, the story begins with the narrator relating the story of a kidnapped boy and of his father who is trying to locate him, although their true relationship with each other begins to slide into ambiguity when it becomes apparent the child was adopted, this fragmentary opening begins to give way to the narrator's own recollections of instances from his own childhood, one in particular of being very young laying out on a bank next to a lake, of boats moored and of remembering a man and woman being very close to each other, he later acknowledges what they were really doing, and after asking his mother as to the woman's identity the only woman she can surmise it could have been is Aunt Omitsu, who was seen as bringing shame on the family due to her lewd conduct, Mitsu ends up dying prematurely. The story bears some common motifs seen in other of Inoue's stories, of extended families, official and unofficial, a journalist working at an Osaka newspaper, and the mention of Hokuriku. An interesting additional motif to this story is that of the narrator's recollections of playing the card game of matching pairs with his Grandmother, who is not a blood relative, the narrator in a slightly disguised way observes the similarity with individual memory with that of holding a single card without another to match it with, which is the subtle metaphorical master stroke to this at times affecting story. 

Mr Goodall's Gloves shares it's central character with Reeds in Grandmother Kano, perhaps the narrator could also be the same, a journalist working for an Osaka newspaper, this time however the location of the story is set in Nagasaki. In some ways it slightly resembles the title story in structure, that in it, set slightly off stage is a renowned artist, a calligrapher - Matsumoto Jun. The narrator arrives in Nagasaki to report on the city in the aftermath of the bomb, staying at an inn the narrator comes across Matsumoto's calligraphy which unlocks memories of Grandmother Kano, a student of Matsumoto, who is at the centre of this story. Some themes that feature in the previous story can be seen by degrees again in Mr Goodall's Gloves, of the distances between official and unofficial family and being seen as an 'unofficial' family member, the feeling that Kano is living a marginalised existence can be felt. These recollections lead to the narrator wandering through the foreigner's cemeteries of the city, and of the narrator discovering the grave of a Goodall which unlocks memories of Kano relating an episode of a grand state occasion, of the obtaining of the gloves, and of a foreigner also called Goodall, the story subtly intertwines these lives and uses a subtle symbolism in the form of Goodall's gloves in representing differing themes  and instances to those who encounter them. Set against the possibility of them being the same man and amidst these speculations is the almost ethereal figure of Grandmother Kano, with her unofficial status, these stories subtle probe themes of tangible existences and the possibility of connecting lives, in a way that perhaps could be best described as portraiture within portraiture, a rewarding addition to Inoue in English, many thanks to Pushkin Press.      

Life Of A Counterfeiter at Pushkin Press


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