Friday, July 28, 2017

Tanizaki in translation

Through recent internet searches it was hard not to stumble upon the news of a number of books relating to Tanizaki Jun'ichiro that are either recently published, re-issued or remain forthcoming. After searching a little more deeply it seems that the number of books number quite a few, so by means of taking stock I thought I'd compile a quick list, back pedalling slightly to begin with -

Red Roofs and Other Stories - trans. Anthony H. Chambers & Paul McCarthy - UMP 
The Maids - trans. Michael P. Cronin - NDP
Devils in Daylight - trans. J. Keith Vincent - NDP
The Gourmet Club - A Sextet - trans. Anthony H. Chambers & Paul McCarthy - UMP
In Praise of Shadows - trans. Gregory Starr - Bento Books
Childhood Years - trans. Paul McCarthy - UMP
A Cat, a Man and Two Women - trans. Paul McCarthy - Daunt Books
Remembering Tanizaki Jun'ichiro and Matsuko - Anthony H. Chambers - UMP
In Black and White - a novel - trans. Phyllis I. Lyons - CUP

Of a few of these hopefully reviews will be forthcoming, although I think that's an impressive list of titles, maybe, hopefully, I've missed more, but for the mean time that'll make for interesting reading.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Territory of Light - Sunday in the Trees

The chapter Sunday in the Trees takes us into June as Territory of Light continues and although brief, being about ten pages the prose has such a vividness to it that in a way makes it stand out a little more prominently from the previous ones, it's events seem to slip out from the narrator's continuing story, and similar to the preceding chapters the thought arises that we're receiving a snapshot of each month, a day at a time nearly, as the book progresses we begin to wonder a little at the events occurring between these presented chapters. In a way Sunday in the Trees strongly displays the themes that Tsushima explores in her writing, namely the alienation, marginalization and loneliness of single motherhood, through prose which is pitch perfect the reader's concerns rise with her character and in a few deftly constructed sentences are movingly dashed.

The setting of most of Sunday in the Trees takes place in Bois de Boulogne, a nearby park and garden to the narrator's apartment, with high zelkova elm trees that the narrator is surprised she hadn't noticed before. Through a number of scenes we read examples familiar with single motherhood, her daughter uncooperative and unruly, a slap that resonates from mother to daughter producing corresponding memories of her receiving one from Fujino, her husband, this is not the only instance to the chapter where the past is mirrored in events occurring in the related present, after her daughter runs off in a temper a memory from school of a boy running away is recalled, through these scenes, and throughout the chapter Tsushima's prose has an economy where a word appears not to be missed in evoking a scene or provoking poignancy as is seen toward the end of the chapter. Throughout there are moments of the turbulence of the narrator coming to terms with the relentlessness of single motherhood, having to give piggyback to her daughter, taking on both mother and father roles, added to this in dealing with a tantrum in which her daughter confesses that being with her father Fujino is best.

Reading Sunday in the Trees we're reminded again that the novel has both the continuous storyline of a separation and also of being that a collection of vignettes with the theme of light occurring through their course, in this chapter whilst exploring the emotional landscape of her narrator this leads to it's powerfully illustrative conclusion. Whilst at the park the narrator spies a lone woman with a child who appears to her to be in a similar circumstance, through the narrator's imagined conversations with the woman and of her picturing their children playing together the reader is tempted into visualizing the beginning of further characters being introduced to the storyline. The narrator learns of the details of the woman's background, the child leading a kind of latchkey kid existence, residing in a six mat room while it's hinted that the woman has turned to prostitution to get by, in all a disarming portrait that further provokes consideration of the plights of single motherhood.  Towards the end the attentive reader's might begin to wonder - when the light?, and whilst on their way back from the park with her daughter carried piggyback the narrator feels a sensation of heat and light momentarily erupt behind them although turning to check they see nothing, how Tsushima links this scene with the plight of the woman seen at the park is a galvanising one, and in a sentence we return to the narrator's progress of picking up papers to file for divorce.

Territory of Light at Penguin Classics   

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A quick post to mention that there's now a Facebook page for my blog where hopefully I'll be linking into further book news and sharing reviews, please stop by and like - 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Territory of Light - The Water's Edge

May's chapter of Territory of Light is entitled The Water's Edge and opens with the narrator hearing the sound of water during the night, interestingly with this initial vagueness of description the reader is drawn into contemplating further detail, what is the source of this sound?, is it a dripping sound?, a tidal sea like swooshing?, the prose continues to provoke further enquiry through it's poetical suggestions. The narrator remains unnamed, and in terms of appearance and contact with the characters from the previous chapter not a lot is added to in The Water's Edge. Instead we are introduced to a new character - the narrator's superior at work, Kobayashi, a bachelor, a sense of slight detached eccentricity, the narrator describes their relationship, at this stage it feels that on his part he resembles a paternal like figure for her, she buys his sandwiches at break times, visualizing addressing questions to him for imagined  reassurance toward the end of the chapter, will he turn a potential intervening saviour later?. A call comes through from Fujino in Kobayashi's presence, and we learn that she had initiated the split with him, there's another call again later, potentially him, has he something pressing to tell her?. 

Another character making an appearance, although potentially only for this chapter is a man who has a business on the floor beneath the narrator's apartment who complains about water leaking through spoiling documents, initially there's the enigma arising surrounding the narrator hearing the water during the night that drifts dream like in out of both sleeping and waking consciousness but after investigating she can't detect any leak, how are the complaint of the water and her hearing it linked?, the prose toys with these slight enigmas of daily life that appear to resemble and have a connection to each other but then again turn to come full circle.

The Water's Edge has the quality of a vignette to it, the appearance of the water on the roof, a sense of distant metaphor, the subtle theme of light continues, the luminance shimmering off it's surface and then the blindingness of the newly replaced  waterproof coating of the roof striking the narrator and her daughter, through the prose light equally obscures and brings new developments into focus, the narrator visualizes her life beginning to continue independently from her husband, the differing paths starting to open up. The sequence of events to The Water's Edge appear to be located and unfold in one point of time, it feels like there is less referencing scenes from the past, although there is a retrospective introspection to her, slightly self recriminating at her eagerness to delve into marriage and pregnancy, the fraughtness of her relationship with Fujino bubbles again to the surface, but details of the circumstance of the separation are still held back for the time being, as with the title of the chapter there's a sense of being at the periphery of events. Although brief the chapter expands on exploring how the separation and it's circumstance provoke a transformative power for the narrator, polarities and positions are beginning to shift, to what extent and their affects may take more shape in next months chapter.   

Thanks again go to Penguin, as mentioned in the previous post I've not a read a novel in this way before and very much appreciate being involved in this innovative approach. 

Territory of Light at Penguin Classics           

Friday, June 2, 2017

Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki

It's a little difficult to describe the events of Spring Garden without repeating the publisher's description on the reverse of the book, published as part of the Pushkin Press series of Japanese novellas Haru no niwa was awarded the Akutagawa Prize in 2014 and is translated by Polly Barton. One of the main narrators, Taro, is recently divorced and lives alone in a block of apartments slated to be sold off to developers, as the story progresses the building begins to empty of it's tenants, interestingly each of the apartments is named after signs from the zodiac, so in places characters are referred to in regards their respective sign, e.g Mrs Snake.  Another prominent character is Nishi, a woman who lives upstairs, whom Taro becomes acquainted with. A central enigma to the story is that of the house that the owner of the apartment block, Mrs Saeki used to occupy, as we hear of Nishi's fascination of the building, which is an amalgamation of old and new, East and West, we learn of her first exposure to the building through a photobook entitled 'Spring Garden' by Taro Gyushima and Kaiko Umamura, so there are aspects to the novella that overlap with the images of 'Spring Garden', in a way instead of having 'a book within a book', there remains the resemblance of a book within a photobook.

An aspect of Shibasaka's prose is that of control, the pacing of the novella makes space and time for, at times understated contemplative observations, it's a novella about progressions and regressions, the old building being torn down, people moving on, the photobook 'Spring Garden' acts itself to open up a chapter from the past, briefly we see the progression of the lives of it's authors, and added to this is the history of the tenants of the house central to the subtle speculative enquiries of the novella. Through the photobook 'Spring Garden' and the narrative at hand there is a subtle rebound of the past between the two and the links that may reach between them. As well as dipping into the lives of Taro and Nishi and their progressions, Taro re-questions himself about his father's remains and the pestle and mortar, there's an array of orbiting characters, the Morio's, Mrs Snake, Numazu, (Taro's colleague), and the appearance of Mrs Saeki's son near the end of the novella. Interestingly Shibasaki adds an additional narrative perspective toward the end of the story through Taro's sister which broadens the scope of perceiving his character. 

Spring Garden, as mentioned before feels very contemplative in mood, being perhaps possibly somewhere between Hiraide's The Guest Cat and maybe, Togawa's The Master Key, (ok perhaps only in as much as the setting's equal), Shibasaki plays with a number of enigmas, some remain as backdrop and some move to the fore, and between them, and between perhaps the buildings of the book, the past and present tread a path both broken and constant.     

Spring Garden at Pushkin Press         

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima

Hopefully for most readers it'll go without saying that Yuko Tsushima was a highly prominent figure of Japanese literature, known not only for her writing, her novels and stories were awarded many of the country's top literary prizes, including the Tanizaki, Yomiuri and Kawabata Prizes, but also she herself sat on numerous literary award panels, and of course her father was Osamu Dazai, with her passing at the beginning of last year, Territory of Light, translated by Geraldine Harcourt is a timely and welcome addition to her works available in English. Appearing as a Penguin Classic the book unfolds over the course of a year, with each chapter unfolding within a month and rather interestingly Penguin have decided to release the book in it's entirety and complete form in April 2018 offering monthly installments to selected readers. As a reader this is a first for me, I've not read a book in this progressive way before, so my posts on the book will appear each month as I receive them, so as we begin I offer great thanks to Penguin for including me on the list.

This opening chapter is April and for the moment the narrator remains nameless, describing the apartment she has recently moved into with her three year old daughter, the narrative begins to waver between past and present tenses in describing, partially, events in her separation with her husband, which appears to be at his instigation, toward the chapter's close it's revealed another woman is involved, but how permanent this relationship is remains uncertain. A deal of this first chapter is taken up with descriptive passages of the apartment, in a sense the prose carries a topographical element, the fixity of place seems to be subconsciously explored. The narrator occupies the top floor of a four storey building, we see her views, snapshots of the external world passing by, the nearby train station, the positioning of windows and what is seen through them, and of course a sense of light, and at times it's absence is prevalent. Single motherhood is a theme that concerned and preoccupied Tsushima's writing a great deal, Territory of Light appears to continue to explore the subject further, there are fledgling signs that the narrator is caught inbetween her parents, her husband and societal conventions, her husband's irresponsibility in regard to her and his daughter becoming apparent, despite this the narrator bears a defiant independence, wanting to keep his influence at a distance, she has her own job at a library for a radio station, relying on her mother to care for her daughter between the childcare. Although the sense that her husband desires continuing contact remains, for how long or whether this will be the beginning of the bone of contention of the novel will maybe begin to emerge into the next chapter.

As with the publisher's description the prose has a luminosity, descriptions of light feel as if their always only a few sentences or passages away, and in this opening chapter we begin to see shadows beginning to be cast by it's principal characters, and whilst reading you get a sense of the potential clash of interests that'll begin to open up between them, added to this the prose also carries the brittle fragility of a recovery. Another aspect is a spatial one, initially with her husband, the narrator searches for an apartment after the rather enigmatic separation, and although the proportions of these buildings is small, for the narrator they represent much larger emotional spaces, the chapter ends with the narrator envisioning a potentially larger canvas for their small space, and before closing a repeating motif also stays in the forefront of the mind - a poem from Goethe, which the narrator has to find for a request at the library, the opening lines repeated - 'Quick now, give up this idle pondering! And lets be off into the great wide world!', it feels it has the tone of a decisive mantra of protection against the vicissitudes forthcoming, but I guess that'll be further revealed for next month.       

Territory of Light at Penguin Classics  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Transparent Labyrinth by Keiichiro Hirano

The Transparent Labyrinth is the eighth and last title in the recently published series Keshiki - New Voices From Japan from Strangers Press, a part of the UEA Publishing Project, Norwich, the story is translated by Kerim Yasar, Hirano has been awarded many literary prizes among them the Akutagawa Prize. The Transparent Labyrinth is a thoroughly contemporary tale, set predominately in Budapest the story is narrated by Okada who has travelled to the city on business and whilst there he makes the acquaintance of Misa - a young Japanese woman whose reasons for staying on in the city seem to tie in mysteriously with a female friend of hers - Federica, Okada speculates to himself that there is the possibility that the two are lesbians, but despite this Okada and Misa are drawn to each other, a fractiously fraught relationship is kernelled. An aspect to the premise and theme of the story is reminiscent of Rupert Thomson's The Book of Revelation, and in his foreword John Freeman points to Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers for likeness, although unlike Thomson's novel the difference here is that instead of a kidnapping over a prolonged period, Okada and Misa find themselves taken to a Bacchanalian orgy where they're coerced into making love in front of a selected group, this episode is brutal with it's scenes of sexual violence including male rape.

An aspect of Hirano's prose which impresses through this short piece is of his ability to paint an absorbingly detailed portrait of his protagonist as he works through the various enigmas that he finds himself in and presented with. Initially there's the disarming events of the evening of enforced sexual escapades and it's ramifications, and also of the enigma of Misa and his feelings for her, as she disappears and re-appears in and out of his life, a wider game of incomprehension seems to be playing out though just out of sight for the reader, some kind of answer occurs to the end of the story which acts to wrong foot, although in a way it remains partial. Another aspect to the story is of Okada trying to reconcile and release himself to the past events which he and Misa endeavour to grapple with, what had violated them also binds them, the psychological forces that flow beneath the story feel fractious, bifurcated, and again Hirano handles this infectiously well. Although I've picked up the last in the series first, mainly attracted by it's enigmatic title, The Transparent Labyrinth was a compelling and provocative start to what looks to be a fascinating and welcome series of stories.  

The Transparent Labyrinth at Strangers Press     


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Book of the Dead by Orikuchi Shinobu

Recently published by University of Minnesota Press The Book of the Dead/Shisha no sho is an immersive read which was originally serialized in 1939 and then the text was revised by Orikuchi for it's publication into book form in 1943. Although in itself the text spans a hundred pages or so, The Book of the Dead comes armour plated with an extensive introduction from Jeffrey Angles, (translator), entitled Bringing the Dead to Life in which he examines the text and gives a biographical glimpse into Orikuchi's life and writing and their relation to the book. Along with this is included three translated essays from Ando Reiji's study of Orikuchi, The Mandala of Light, (which itself was awarded the Oe Kenzaburo Prize), translator's notes, a glossary and a bibliographic section, being the first translation of the book into English, this will, no doubt remain the definitive edition of this fascinating and enigmatic book for years to come. Shisha no sho, also to note was made into a film by master animator Kihachiro Kawamoto.

Set in eighth-century Japan, so interestingly to us the book offers a retrospective view within multiple historical frames and interpretations, the book contains three primary plot lines and characters - the Fujiwara maiden's pilgrimage, based on Chujo-hime, Shiga Tsuhiko, whose dead spirit is re-awoken in search of the love he last saw before his execution as the result of a power struggle, Tsuhiko is inspired from Prince Otsu and lastly, Yakamochi, a statesman who could be seen as an orbiting character, but whose perspectives add another dimension and distance to the main progress of the story. Orikuchi, as well as a writer of fiction and poetry, was also an authoritative ethnologist, folklorist, linguist, and a disciple of Kunio Yanagita, author of the famed Tono monogatari, for his academic writings, Orikuchi wrote under the name of Chōkū Shaku, throughout The Book of the Dead Orikuchi incorporated the subjects of his non-fiction, with this in mind it's interesting to contemplate the character of the storyteller who accompanies the maiden when she arrives at the temple, she appears to embody the notion of the oral storytelling tradition as she informs and fills in details for the maiden upon her arrival of her enigmatic pilgrimage.

Reading Ando Reiji's opening essay it's some way reassuring to discover that he had initially struggled with grappling the text of this enigmatic book, although with it's mysteries Reiji's observations offer some illuminating answers, interpretations and observations, in particular of the way that Orikuchi re-sequenced the text when it came to it's book form, which possibly seems to be a precursor 'cut up technique' of Gysin and Burroughs and of the need to play literary detective when reading, Reiji makes comparisons to Edogawa Rampo, Orikuchi had alluded that the book was an eulogy to a dead lover of a same sex relationship - Fuji Musen, in some places when reading it feels as if Orikuchi had climbed a mountain in Shisha no sho and then turned and swept away his own footsteps. The prose style of The Book of the Dead is similar in some ways to entering the explorative narrative landscape of another modernist - Hyakken Uchida, both appear to pursue and describe their subjects and themes to the point of abstraction and beyond and to read The Book of the Dead in it's serialized form, pre-reorganisation, would be an interesting exercise.

In his introduction Jeffrey Angles examines how the book related to the times of it's conception and unearths a number of embedded allegories within the text that offer up potential critiques or anomalies to the dictates of it's times, which adds another aspect of the book when reading. Despite it's brief length the book has a compactness to it, perhaps not in plot but in it's symbolism and themes, the discussions here explore Orikuchi's use of Egyptian imagery and theme, the story comes described as being 'loosely inspired by the tale of Isis and Osiris', as well as this much time is given over to religious speculation which arises through the text in the commentaries. In some ways the book feels very much as being one of vying visitations, Tsuhiko whose vision awakens from beyond and is in search of the realization of earthly pursuits and desires, and also of the Fujiwara maiden who begins to envision her unearthly enlightenment approaching over the mountain, the book reads as if entering a portal between the two, the cycle of relinquishing and begetting. Along with the accompanying texts The Book of the Dead is a landmark translation that proves to be both an enigmatic and revelatory read, tectonic in it's implications.   

The Book of the Dead at University of Minnesota Press                  

to read an excerpt at Granta   

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami

After The Nakano Thrift Shop it seemed natural to continue on with the recently published Record of A Night Too Brief, by Pushkin Press as part of their interesting mini series of translated Japanese novellas, in a translation by Lucy North, the collection was awarded the Akutagawa Prize back in 1996.

The opening story - Record of a Night Too Brief is the story that consumes the most pages, just under seventy, and through those it perhaps represents a change in the way some English readers might perceive Kawakami, here Kawakami is in much more of an experimental mode, the story is broken down across nineteen chapters which in places induce within the reader the impression that they are reading a short story collection within the one. Feeling sequential, although they feel like they can be read individually, the story sprawls the subject, or concept of night, which in one chapter transforms from an itching sensation on a narrator's back, in another, from a swirling cup of coffee, the story in places breaks it's own supposed sequence, a dancing couple begin to notice mushrooms sprouting from themselves as they age, a girl who seems to be in various stages of disintegration remains the fragmentary clue, or narrative landmark linking the pieces together, the question arises perhaps - is the narrator the same one across the chapters?. The story incorporates surrealistic episodes and instances and an attempt at replay and repair for the broken girl. Record of a Night Too Brief is a mini sprawl of refreshingly imaginative chapters, full of minutiae of all sizes, recalling perhaps in places Landolfi, some incorporating concepts of theoretical physics, another a vivid scene from a strange formal dinner, but the surrealism and allegory don't let up even as dawn approaches, and the reader is given a moment to recollect themselves briefly before moving on to the next story.

The second story, Missing feels much in the same vein, although being more subdued with more space for the explorative, the central plot line is narrated by a sister of two brothers, who are named through the story as brother no. 1 and brother no. 2, brother no. 1 through an intermediary, named Ten, is set to marry Hiroko in what appears to be an arranged marriage, although the dilemma is that he has gone missing, the family, the narrator relates has a history of members going missing, a great - grandmother in the past. At random though, brother no. 1 it seems appears to the narrator at various points like a visitation, in his place in the marriage brother no. 2 steps in, as much of the marriage arrangements are conducted over the phone. Entwined to this main plot line a number of surrealistic episodes and diversions occur, the incident with the jar containing the spirit of Goshiki, (an older ancestor), there's also the balancing of the family numbers being equal, Hiroko moves in, but doesn't settle well with the family and begins to shrink, each family has it's own ways - as another member observes. Underneath the strangeness, there's some interesting observations and allegories occurring in Missing, the presence of it's characters fading in and out, diminishing literally in size, is telling, a cryptic critique, and it's occurrences of strange rituals make it fascinating reading.

As mentioned the last story A Snake Stepped On was awarded the Akutagawa Prize, as with The Nakano Thrift Shop there are not that many characters to the story, narrated by Hiwako who works at a small shop producing prayer beads and supplies for local temples, finds life irrevocably transformed after stepping on a snake, there's a mist, and Hiwako hears a voice saying 'It's all over' and sees a woman walk away in the direction of her apartment. An impression of the story, and Kawakami's writing as a whole, is her ability to mix the ambiguities and unkowns of modern life and blend them with the sense of older myth and folklore, in the three stories of the collection the frontiers of each erode away and intercede, creating fascinating narratives that bring the two worlds into forming exacting allegories. The woman reappears in Hiwako's apartment posing as her mother, although Hiwako's mother lives miles away, she calls to make certain she's there, who is the snake woman?, an imposter making absurd claims, a mother figure of a different sense?. As the story proceeds the revelation comes that Hiwako is not alone in having to live with a snake/human, as her boss's wife Nishiko reveals that she is in the same circumstance, with the snakes calling for them to submit and join them and make the transformation. In places the story shares the same claustrophobic fervor of Abe Kobo's 1949 short story Dendrocacalia and at moments visually it brings to mind Junji Ito's terrifying Uzumaki with spiralling snakes. Underneath this there remains the allegorical study of the transformative power of mankind's darker nature, a fascinating culmination to an engrossing collection.

Record of a Night Too Brief at Pushkin Press

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Keshiki - New Voices From Japan - Strangers Press

February appears to be a busy month, alongside some interesting novellas appearing from Pushkin Press, maybe not so many might be aware that Strangers Press also launch Keshiki - New Voices From Japan, a highly desirable series of chapbooks of translations of some of the most prominent authors from contemporary Japan. They've created a great page and website shop, so hopefully reviews of titles from both of the series will be forthcoming here soon.

Keshiki - New Voices From Japan at Strangers Press