Monday, 27 August 2018

Of Dogs and Walls by Yuko Tsushima

It's interesting to note that Penguin have some more Japan related titles forthcoming, there's the U.K edition of Kawabata's Dandelions, The Beauty of Everyday Things by Soetsu Yanagi and also there's the U.K edition of Star the newly translated novella by Yukio Mishima to look forward to. Continuing with their Penguin Modern series it was good to sit down at last with the two stories that make up Penguin Modern: 43 - Of Dogs and Walls which is translated by Geraldine Harcourt. Each story is a brief 20-30 pages, both of which are newly translated here into English, interestingly the narrative structures feel quite different to each story, maybe this displays in same way the 32 year gap between them. The first is The Watery Realm which first appeared in 1982, the narrative performs a loop of associations across the story as it opens with a child saving for an aquarium accessory, a sunken castle for his fish tank, through a number of associating links - the Dragon Palace in the fable of Urashimataro, a coal mining accident, father's death, a fear of underground water, the term jusui, the memory of her mother's umbrella, and the Shinto water deity Suijin, the narrative explores themes of cross generational memory, the transience between that of being a daughter and then of being a mother, it feels like that somewhere in her subconscious the narrator is sieving for correlations, the story leaves on an unpleasant episode from the past that causes recalculations for the main protagonist. The Watery Realm is an engaging short story that combines explorations of family history woven with historical myth and elements of nature, as with Territory of Light.  

The second story is the title story - Of Dogs and Walls from 2014, which feels more syncopated in nature perhaps by the sequencing of it's events. Similarly though it explores the nature of memory and the passing of time, and again features a father's premature death, which perhaps bears an autobiographical element. Through it's house move and memories of walled gardens and partitions, which feel to be symbolically loaded, the story opens with a shape seen on a wall which by turns symbolizes the fictional character the 'Walker through walls', it feels that Tsushima might be pointing that there is a way through memory, albeit fictional, to pass through certain barriers. Along with the names of the dogs and cats of the story, Perry, Jack, Kuro, Louis, we have the name of the older brother of the central character, Toru-chan, who has a developmental disability. After the move to the new house, the daughter becomes fascinated by a small doorway in the wall between her own and neighbour's houses, equally fascinating is the young master of the house and his mother who mysteriously appear through it after certain events and continue to occupy her dreams and thoughts as the daughter grows older. As the story is brief it's hard to describe it without disclosing the central event away, the second half of the story is ethereal in perspective, continuing on sharing what is seen in the neighbourhood in the here after, a visit to Toru-chan's school, a place that now seems to be surrounded by inescapable walls, juxtaposing unfolding perspectives with unmoving ones, it's hard not to be touched by.

Of Dogs and Walls at Penguin Modern


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