Monday, 15 March 2010

The Catch and Other War Stories

The Catch and Other War Stories first appeared in hardback as 'The Shadow of Sunrise', published by Kodansha International, it also came with an extra story, which was 'The Far Worshipping Commander' by Masuji Ibuse, I'm not sure why the story wasn't included in the paperback edition as I would have liked to have read it. The paperback edition came out in 1981, and the stories were selected by Shoichi Saeki, who also writes an introduction and biographical notes on each of the authors included, the collection doesn't contain war stories as we know them, rather as Shoichi Saeki mentions, 'a spectrum of human situations in wartime'.

The first story is by Oe Kenzaburo called The Catch the story has also appeared as Prize Stock in other translations and anthologies, translated here by John Bester, the story won Oe the Akutagawa prize, and was adapted to film by Oshima Nagisa, (Shiiku). The second story, Sakurajima, is by Umezaki Haruo - 梅崎 春生, an interesting author who hasn't been widely translated into English, born in Fukuoka in 1915, he won the Naoki Prize for Boroya no shunju, ('Shanty Life'). Two other short stories of his that I'd like to read one day are 'The Birthmark on S's Back' and 'Under The Sky', the latter translated by Sakae Shioya, two of his novels have been translated into French. Sakurajima is the longest story in the collection, and was published in Japan in 1946, the translator was D.E Mills. The story opens in July 1945 and centres around Murakami, a petty officer who is stationed at a signals unit in Bonotsu but gets transfered to Sakurajima. Arriving at his new post he encounters C.P.O Kira an overbearing disciplinarian who Murakami can't get along with from the start, Kira's obsession about order and discipline is taken to pointless extremes when Murakami observes the men digging a ditch that would take them until at least November before they would finish, Murakami is seen throughout the story questioning Kira about his orders, looking into Kira's eyes Murakami knows that he hates him, the relationship between these two characters is fraught with tension. Murakami sometimes walks up to the observation post, and talks to the man on duty, they discuss the suicide squadrons, and the year's first appearance of tsukutsukuboshi cicadas as they watch the occasional stray Grumman fly over. Umezaki's story captures the sense of futility felt by the ordinary soldiers, and the mounting tension they feel fearing that an American invasion is imminent. The unit has a drunken party one night and Kira starts questioning Murakami's willingness to die in battle, Murakami's preoccupation with his feelings about his own death form an underlying narrative that starts from the beginning of the story,'Let me live unhurried, calm, until my death' he reasons to himself. Murakami's tone is very distant from any type of 'glory in death', when the lookout is shot dead by an enemy plane he sees that - 'The face of the dead lookout had been peaceful, but it was not the face of a man who had learned in death the key to all the mysteries of human life'.

The third story is Summer Flower by Tamiki Hara, and translated by George Saito, a prize winning piece concerning the first few hours after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the story has also appeared in the The Crazy Iris and Other Stories, not many of Tamiki Hara's writings have been translated into English, three poems can be read here. The last story is by Fumiko Hayashi and translated by Ted T.Takaya, 'Bones' centers around Michiko, who's husband we learn died on Okinawa, with no other means to support herself or her family she heeds a suggestion made by a friend to become a prostitute. The first half of the story describes the nervous night of her first encounter into this world. Hayashi's prose has a brilliant straight forwardness to it, which immediately forms an empathy with her character's plight. Michiko's younger brother, Kanji, who worked at a factory contracts T.B and is sent home after coughing up blood, her mother died sometime ago, and Michiko also supports her ageing father as well as her young daughter.The money she manages to save through her earnings she hides away in her husband's bones box. 'Bones' was published in 1949, Hayashi Fumiko is another author who has many short stories scattered across various anthologies, the subjects of many of her stories are war widows, her writings are a great chronicle of post war life seen from the civilian perspective.

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