Monday, March 21, 2011

The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories: Part 2

I continue my reading of this hugely enjoyable anthology (part 1 here).

The Peony Garden by Nagai Kafu describes the journey of a geisha and her companion along a canal to see a peony garden. There is a desultory feel to the whole journey, a the two protagonists examine their relationship, and the garden turns out to be a disappointment. It leaves a strong impression.

Night Fires by Shiga Naoya evokes the Shinto gods of the countryside. Despite the encroachment of the rational modern world they are still obviously present.

Aguri by Tanizaki Jun'ichiro is about a man shopping with a geisha and is a highly satisfying character study of a vain man. I especially liked the detail of how it feels to be forced into western clothes. This is one of my favourite stories - I liked it so much I searched to see if I could find any of his other works and found he had written 'The Makioka Sisters' (already recommended to me by Anne S). There is a similar study in Blowfish by Satomi Ton - a man suffers to the consequences of consuming a famous Japanese delicacy.

Portrait of an Old Geisha by Okamoto Kanoko. This is the story of obsession - between an old geisha and a young male inventor whom she encourages and nurtures.

In a Grove by Akutagawa Ryunosuke: This is an unusual story in which the characters involved give three different accounts of a murder/suicide. It poses the question: what is truth?

The Bears of Nametoko by Miiazawa Kenji: a beautifully written tale about the sad life of a hunter who kills bears despite himself.

Spring Riding in a Carriage by Yokomitsu Riichi: This explores the relationship between a man and his wife as she dies of TB. It is intensely written, and absorbed me as I read, but at the end I was left wondering what it meant. I suppose I do not understand Japanese culture enough, and hope another reading of the introduction and the story will help me.

Carp. This fish is the symbol for love, according to the anthology's introduction, so this story, where the carp is moved from pool to pool deals with the chasing of love. Again, I felt I was missing something when I came to the end.


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