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On the Baltic Island of Hiddensee

On a clear day, the Danish island of Møn is visible from here. It’s about 65 km away. Hard as it is to believe, there are those who tried to swim across this stretch of water in the times of the DDR. Or paddle across on boards. Most did not make it; their unidentifiable decomposing bodies eventually washing up on Danish or Swedish shores or being recovered from the sea by foreign ships.  Escapees took no paper work to prevent retribution on their families, who were simply left in limbo.  Much is known of the victims of the East German Wall, not so much about the forgotten dead of the Baltic. These tragedies are not the point of Lutz Seiler’s German book prize winning novel, but they are both start and end points.

For Alexander Krusovitch (the Kruso of the title) lost his sister, Sonja, in this way to the Baltic many years ago.  Kruso has established a microsociety on Hiddensee. The focal point is the pub, the Klausner, where Kruso and his team work mighty hard to cater to both the daily tourist trade and an ever-swelling number of dropouts, who make their way to Hiddensee planning their own Baltic escape route. Kruso’s aim is to dissuade them – not through any patriotic motive, but to prevent a repetition of his sister’s demise.

The community, if you can call it that, is joined in the summer of 1989 by Edgar Bendler, a literature student, struggling to process the sudden death of his girlfriend, who simply decides to leave his own life behind.  Following his initiation into Kruso’s alternative society, (and it is an initiation with many other strange rituals and practices plus lots of drinking to follow), he is enthralled by Kruso, and the two form a close bond.  Bendler definitely sees himself as Kruso’s man Friday, at first the helper, and then the successor.  But time is limited. It is the summer of 1989, and we all know the DDR is living  on borrowed time.  As the summer proceeds, the number of visitors to Kruso’s community drops – the Iron curtain is fraying and there are now less dangerous ways to flee the country.

As the numbers in his community dwindle, Kruso loses his raison d’être and his grip on reality, with Edgar once more following in his footsteps.  The authorities strangely, having previously shown much tolerance and restraint, turn hostile.  Soon Edgar is the last man standing – he becomes the recluse foreshadowed in the pub’s name, as obsessed with Sonja’s disappearance as Kruso himself had been.

This is a long novel written by an award-winning poet.  The style is lyrical, packed with detail and literary allusion.  The poetry of Georg Trakl (which I have not read) appears frequently, and I’m sure there are more intertextual references that passed me by entirely.  I found it strange and hallucinatory at times, at others simply gross.  (I really didn’t need all that detail about washing-up and the contents of the drains in a busy tourist pub.) Repetitive also, as Edgar washes ever more dishes and his mind circles round and round his experiences on the island.

The novel is a slow read, even slower (almost interminable) on a Kindle. I don’t think I would have finished it, had I not actually been on Hiddensee at the time of reading.

That said, Seiler does encapsulate the spirit of the island.  He spent time there during the last days of the DDR, and, while it’s hard to say how much of Kruso’s strange society is based on his own experiences, other details of life on Hiddensee remain unchanged.  For instance: tourists outnumber inhabitants; cars are prohibited; horse/cart and bicycles remain the main modes of transport; house ownership is denoted with runes on exterior walls. The preservation of the landscape is a priority.  Most of the island is a national park,  and actively managed by the Hiddenseers.  To their credit.  The island is clean (apart from the horse tracks), the air is pure.  The local speciality, sea buckthorn cream cheese cake is just heavenly!  It’s easy to understand why Nobel prize-winner Gerhardt Hauptmann made the island his home. It was and remains another world.

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Kruso won the German Book Prize in 2014. It was translated into English by Tess Lewis.

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Other winners of the German Book Prize translated into English and reviewed on this site are:

2005 Arno Geiger – We are doing fine (Trans. Maria Poglitsch Bauer)
2006 Katharina Hacker – The Have-Nots (Trans. Helen Atkins) (in the TBR)
2007 Julia Franck – The Blind Side of the Heart (Trans. Anthea Bell) (My favourite)
2008 Uwe Tellkamp – The Tower  (Trans Mike Mitchell)
2010 Melinda Nadj Abonji – Fly Away, Pigeon (Trans.Tess Lewis)
2011 Eugen Ruge – In Times of Fading Light (Trans. Anthea Bell)

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IMG_0109Winner of the 2014 Akutagawa Prize

Translated from Japanese by Polly Barton

From one beautiful cover to the next – Pushkin Press certainly know how to package their goods!  But. While The Disappearances had me page-turning from the start, I can’t say I found Spring Garden so rivetting. But once I accepted that this is a quiet novel and a slow burner, I began to appreciate it a little more, even if I never really warmed to it.

Taro, a young divorcé,  who has decided that he can no longer share his space, lives alone in an emptying apartment block in Setagaya, a middle class suburb of Tokyo.  The landlord has decided to demolish the building and sell the land for redevelopment.  Taro is one of the last renters in the block.  He has no friends, and spends his time, when not working, lounging on the floor brooding about his recently deceased father.  The ever increasing void around him doesn’t perturb him unduly.  He’ll find somewhere new to live when his lease expires.

One day he notices one of his remaining neighbours spying on the sky-blue house opposite the apartment block. A casual friendship develops between him and Nishi, the older women “spy”.  Her fixation on the house began years before when she found a coffee table book entitled “Spring Garden” with this house and the life lived by its then inhabitants as its subject.  The life seemed ideal, the couple happy, and yet they, a famous commercial producer and his actress wife, divorced only a couple of years after the publication of the book. Nishi has analysed the photographs for clues as to their unhappiness to the nth degree, but does not understand. Her objective is to see the whole house from the inside. When the opportunity arises, she takes it, but needs Taro’s help to complete her quest in its entirety.

I use the word quest purposefully, because to Nishi, it is just that, even if it doesn’t seem much of an adventure to me.  And so much of this novel seemed off kilter in other ways.   There is a mystery surrounding the celebrity couple, that turns out to be a non-mystery.  Those remaining in the apartment block – particularly Taro – seem stuck in a state of permanent stasis. Are they paralysed by the non-stop change of the city in which they live?

Because I have to say there doesn’t seem to be much character development or even story-arc.  That’s not to say that there aren’t character studies.  It’s just that they didn’t run particularly deep for me, and I couldn’t decide whether Taro was grief-stricken or simply lacksadaisical. Perhaps the objective of the piece is to simply to document the realities of urban life in contemporary Tokyo; loneliness, chance encounters and the resulting fleeting friendships, the temporariness of our place in the world. This latter point emphasised by fine observations from nature.

Spring Garden works on this thematic level.  But it falls apart when I start looking at details.  What is the purpose of that change of narrator 4/5ths of the way through the novel, for instance.  To help us see Taro through sympathetic eyes, those of his sister? To endear him to us?  It didn’t work.  And as for that plot device in the final scene in the Spring Garden house.  My eyes rolled. (Honestly I remember using it myself in a primary school story.)

Given that Spring Garden won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, I will assume that Japanese tastes differ widely from mine, and that I am blind to this story’s virtues. I wonder, though, whether the same would be true of the other titles in Pushkin Press’s Japanese novella series.  Has anyone read them?  Are they worth picking up?


This read, a rare fail, completes my Round the World With Pushkin Press reading project.  Or rather, it would have done, had I not had so much fun visiting 10 countries on my first circuit, that I’ve decided to add a second!

Next stop: Australia

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Given that Nick Barley, Director of EIBF, was chair of this year’s Man Booker International Prize, and a second judge, Daniel Hahn, was on site to chair well over a dozen events, it was a given that the Man Booker International Prize would be a focus of this year’s festival.  Here are the two of them discussing the judging of the prize.

Wednesday 16.07.2017 was a key date for the Man Booker International Prize with 3 events in Charlotte Square.

Event 1) The Power of Translation

As we queued to attend this event, we were handed samples of Dorthe Nors’s Mirror, Shoulder, Signal and Roy Jacobsen’s The Unseen: one page of the original and the equivalent page in English translation.  “Surely not a translation slam!”, I thought.  (Oh, how I miss those.) Indeed it was not.  Instead Nora’s translator, Misha Hoekstra, and Kari Dickson, standing in for Don Bartlett, joined both Nick Barley and Daniel Hahn to discuss the particular challenges of translating these two Man Booker International shortlistees.

Now, of course, an hour is not enough to discuss the translation of two whole pages of two different novels in any depth, and so we didn’t.  Following a brief synopsis by Daniel Hahn of the other shortlistees and the characteristics which led to their shortlisting (Fever Dream, irresistibly creepy, cannot be read slowly; Judas, the use of biblical King James English mirrors the deep resonance of the original Hebrew; Compass, enormously ambitious, rich, full of stuff, requiring the translator to replicate the research; A Horse Walks into A Bar, captivating, unbearably uncomfortable, a unique if seedy comedian’s voice with untranslatable jokes, which the translator had to substitute with her own), the discussion turned to specifics with relation to the Scandinavian contingent.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal 

a) The title reflects the way learners are taught to turn in Denmark.  Why not Mirror, Signal, Manoeuver? asked Nick Barley.  Because that’s not how turning is taught in the USA replied Misha Hoekstra, and the same translation was to be published in both countries, So we stuck to the Danish original.

b) Of the translation in general, he also said that Dorthe Nors wanted to keep the beauty of his American English rather than translate it into British English.  (At this point I’m tempted to say – discuss.  But I shall refrain.)

c) Expletives – Rather than translate the Danish expletives, I thought about what the driving instructor would say if (American) English was her native tongue.

4) He changed the rhythm of the lyrical sections of the novel to make the prose more musical.

5) In what seemed to be a direct answer to those who find Sonja wish-washy, someone (probably Daniel Hahn or Nick Barclay) pointed out that observation is her revenge.

The Unseen

a) Norway’s population is equivalent to Scotland’s (5 million) but is spread out over a much larger area.  Each town has its own dialect (note dialect, not accent).  The dialect of the island of Barrøy (or so I assume) in the extract of The Unseen was unrecognisable to the two Norwegian speakers in attendance. (Kari Dickson and one audience member) So how did the two Dons (translators Don Bartlett and Don Shaw) approach the problem of translation? By inventing a new English dialect merging Scandinavian words used in English with the elongated vowels of Lancashire.

c) The landscape is a central element of The Unseen and the language used is highly specific.  So the differences between a tussock and a mound matter.  But what happens when there is no English equivalent?  Then the translator has to decide if what is lost in translation is compensated for what is won.

Event 2) Samanta Schweblin

Apologies to Karl Geary who was sharing the stage with Samanta Schweblin and must be edited out of this post, because of its remit.  Consolation is offered, hopefully, by the fact that I have added Montpellier Parade to my wishlist.

I reviewed Fever Dream a couple of months ago and so I’ll only add additional insights here.

a) Rescue Distance, the original Spanish title, is not a phrase invented by Schweblin.  It is one well understood in Argentina. Schweblin applied it not only to the central mother and child relationship but also to the distance between ourselves and the planet.  “What happens when we cannot measure the danger?”, she asked.  And made me think twice about my consumption of soya beans.

b) She wrote the novel 12 times.  The story wouldn’t work until she found David’s voice.

c) Key thought-provoking thought: “As an Argentinian I know nothing about Latin America, until I moved to Berlin.”

Event 3) David Grossman in conversation with Nick Barley

Of course, the winner of the Man Booker International Prize had to make an appearance as the culmination of the afternoon’s events. And I was delighted because although I was rooting for The Unseen to take the prize, I can see why the judges – unanimously, according to Daniel Hahn, deemed this the winner.

Before moving into the event, may I indulge you with a few thoughts of my own? (No? Then skip the next 5 paragraphs.)

Translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen

I would not have read A Horse Walks into A Bar without its win, and almost abandoned it after the first sitting.  It is the tale of a stand-up comedian, going into meltdown on stage.  It’s crude (I hate crude), it’s vicious and nasty (I detest that kind of comedy).  As a result, the jokes that made me laugh were few and far between. (Were they Grossman’s?, I now wonder.  cf notes from Event 1 above.)

It was saved, however, by the introduction of the retired judge.  A former friend of the comedian’s, who was implored to attend a performance.  “Do you remember me?”, asks Douvaleh Greenstein during a phone call.  Eventually the judge does.  “Thank God”‘ says Douvaleh. “I thought I’d made you up.”

And that need, that desperation reeled me in. I wasn’t going to stop reading until I knew what had caused it.  And even if watching this car-crash of a performance was extremely uncomfortable, I couldn’t avert my eyes.   I’m not entirely sure that Douvaleh transformed from a repellent character into one I wanted to embrace (as per Nick Barley), but I certainly softened my opinion of him.

That trajectory mirrors that of Douvaleh’s audience – or at least those that stayed to the end of his performance.  It’s only when a sympathetic female audience member, who knew him as a child, reminds him “you were a good boy”, that the cruel, vicious routine begins to transform into something completely different,

The Man Booker International Prize judges were “bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks”. I can see that. A Horse Walks into A Bar is anything but traditional, runs a gamut of risks including offending and alienating the reader.  Whoever heard of stand-up comedy without laughs?  But my word, the psychological intensity! Although The Unseen remains my favourite on this year’s Man Booker International Prize shortlist, Grossman’s novel is the one that will elicit an emotional response from me for a long time to come.

Nick Barley was keen to put A Horse Walks Into A Bar into the context of Grossman’s work as a whole, specially as the third in a loose-knit trilogy exploring grief.  Grossman  was 2.5 years into writing To the End of the Land, a novel about a woman who has lost her son in a military operation, when his own son was killed in action against Hizbollah.  “I didn’t know if I could save the book”, said Grossman. “In the end, the book saved me. Writing literature is the best way to force me into my life.” He followed up with Falling Out of Time, in Barley’s words “a Homeric journey into the depths of grief.  I shed tears on every page.”   “Art is the closest a secular non-believer like myself can get to the intersection of life and death” said Grossman of Falling Out of Time.  “How little I understood what I was writing at the time, and I now understand that books take place in a writer’s blind spot.” In this context A Horse Walks Into A Bar examines the way humour, as irrational and illogical as it may seem, allows movement in the congealed world of grief.

Finally, in an echo of what Samanta Schweblin said earlier in the day, Grossman told us that he had had the story of A Horse Walks into A Bar for 24 years.  It wasn’t until the character of Douvaleh appeared that he knew how to tell it and write himself a worthy Man Booker International winner.

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imageWinner of the 2014 Nordic Council Award
Translated from Swedish by Neil Smith

I was rooting for this novel to lift the Petrona Award (for best Scandi Crime novel) on Saturday night, but it was not to be.  All I can say is that the winner (which I will be making a beeline for) must be utterly fantastic because The Wednesday Club was one of the most satisfying reads of 2017 to date.

It’s not your standard crime novel. In fact, after the prologue, in which Claes Thune’s secretary, Matilda Wiik goes missing, there’s no mention of the police for another 300 pages! Instead the narrative rolls back eight months to describe the events leading up to the disappearance.

Set in Helsinki 1938, following the Austrian Anschluss, it documents the unrest and tensions arising in Finland through the eyes and attitudes of Claes Thune’s fellow members of the Wednesday Club, a group that meets once a month to drink lots of liquor (!) and to debate issues of the day. Long-standing friendships mean that there is no rancour when disagreements arise. It is very civilised. For the sake of the group, Thune even swallows his pride when one of them runs away with his wife! And yet at this critical point in time, political attitudes are diverging and hardening. The group’s cohesion begins to weaken, and division becomes inevitable.

This group of gentlement works as a microcosm of society. There are Nazi sympathisers, supporters of appeasement, adherents of resistance and others, like Claes Thune who seem to be as bemused politically as he is personally. Hoping for the best. And there is the Jew, Joachim Jary, destined to be the victim, not only because of his race, but because of his chronic depression. His illness enables a disquietening discussion on the Nazi rationale for euthanasia of the disabled.

All of which is not necessarily specifically Finnish. The novel becomes so through the revelations of Mrs Wiik’s history. She’s a woman with a past she would love to forget and keen to keep secret. Why? Because 20 years previously she was on the wrong side of history, finding herself on the losing Red side of the Finnish Civil War. Even now this counts against her even though she was punished for it at the time with internment in a concentration camp, where unspeakable things happened to her. Yet her memories flood back, when she hears the voice of her persecutor on the night she works late to deliver drinks to the Wednesday Club.

And while she recognises him, he doesn’t recognise her, leaving the way free for her to plan a leisurely revenge. The identity of the man and how Mrs Wiik’s intends to revenge herself are the mysteries at the heart of this novel, both solved, along with her disappearance, only in the final 5 pages.

I didn’t see any of it coming, possibly because I found the historical revelations alongside their warnings for our future fascinating; the characterisation equally so.  Westö’s characters are not ciphers, one dimensional representations of political viewpoints; they are fully human with the capacity to surprise, by acting in ways contrary to their utterances.

So even though I now know the outcome, this is a historical crime novel with sufficient depth to fully repay a reread or two.  It is, in summary, quite brilliant!

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hour of the jackalWinner of the 2011 German Prize for Crime Fiction
Translated from German by John Brownjohn

Lack of evidence ensured that no-one was ever successfully prosecuted for the 1989 political assassination of pro-independence, anti-apartheid activist, Anton Lubowski. Even if the identities of the killers were known.

In The Hour of the Jackal, Jaumann imagines what would happen, if decades after the event, someone decides that justice must finally be served. A merciless, brutal assassin begins to take out Lubowski’s killers. It is a race against time for he is, himself, terminally ill.

The detective, Clemencia Garises, makes the connection between the victims after the second killing and seeks to contact the other men the hit list. Yet she is obstructed by both by the lack of urgency in her own force and by influential others: the retired judge of the failed trial and her own superiors. She would make no headway if she didn’t have the help of a German journalist, whose interest in her is a little more than professional.

Clemencia is a dedicated officer with trials of her own. In an inversion of the usual trope, it’s not that she has no family, rather that she has too much. She shares the two-roomed home, paid-for entirely by her, with her two children and her extended family, including two meddlesome, match-making aunts. (They love the journalist, by the way.) Clemencia’s only demand that she has a room of her own. The sometimes comic tribulations of Clemencia at home contrast sharply with the serious and life-threatening problems of the case, which is dark, violent and steeped in the murky politics of the late-80’s.

The novel includes a portrait of Namibia itself, a vast country with dust-track roads and a climate of extremes. Changeable with sudden storms – just like the plot. Clemencia’s family life  allows the author to inject local colour, and is reminiscent of Alexander McCall-Smith’s Ladies Detective Series, although Clemencia is no Madama Ramotswe. Jaumann’s assassin has much in common with Frederick Forsyth’s jackal, and I’m sure the title is no accidental homage. Like Forsyth’s jackal, Jaumann’s is hunting real people, with uncamoflagued identities.  Given that they weren’t convicted of the crime in reality, and some were still living when Jaumann named them here, the author isn’t compromising in any way. Unlike his detective, who finds herself fighting to save the lives of men whose values she loathes. It makes for a most interesting dilemma.

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This post is part of a series in which I investigate the German Krimi, guided by Katharina Hall’s Crime Fiction in German. Jaumann’s novel is discussed in more detail in chapter 5: Der Afrika-Krimi (Crime Novels set in Africa).

 

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imageWinner of the Sapir Prize for Best Debut
Translated from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston

Bad news first.  It’s just as well that I read Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s second novel, Waking Lions, last year. (It made my best of 2016 list.) Otherwise I might not have continued beyond chapter one of her debut, because of the crude talk. However, because of last year’s experience, I gave One Night, Markovitch 3 chapters, by the end of which there was no chance of me abandoning it.  All my hopes for another complex and absorbing read were coming to fruition (and the crude talk had thankfully settled down).

Of course, I know that chapter one was establishing essential differences  between the plain, inexperienced farmer, Yaakov Markovitch and handsome, virile, action man, Zeev Feinberg, the two men whose lives form the backbone of the novel.  Theirs is a friendship formed when Markovitch saves Zeinberg’s life, not once but twice in the same night.  Circumstances dictate, however, that they must both flee.  Thus do they end up on a boat to Europe, where they are to mary Jewish women seeking to flee the Nazis. They are to divorce once their brides have  obtained the necessary permission to stay in British Palestine.  However, when Markovitch, whose face is so instantly forgettable, he makes an excellent arms smuggler, sets eyes on Bella, the most beautiful woman in the room, he falls irrevocably in love and determines to make her love him.   Once back in Palestine, in his first ever act of assertiveness, he refuses to divorce her.

Is this a romantic gesture, or an act of cruelty?  Or both? Certainly Markovitch’s life is never straightforward again.  Neither, for that matter is Zeev Feinberg’s.  Having divorced his European bride, he is free to marry the love of his life, Sonia.  Yet their happiness isn’t a given.  Much heartache and many separations follow,  resulting in both men bringing up children not their own – sometimes knowingly, sometimes not.  And then, just when life seems to be settling,  there’s a tragedy, or a war, or the revealing of a deeply hidden secret.  It seems that love and life are designed to test these characters to the max.

And in the testing Gundar-Goshen’s characters (and I include all, except the contemptible Bella) demonstrate not only their flaws, but such spirit, sensuality, generosity, weakness and vulnerability that I couldn’t help but love them. My heart broke with theirs.  Not that I knew we were heading for heartache, as the narrative tone is frequently comic with fabulous (as in fable-like) events and sprinklings of magical realism. For instance, the lustrous moustache of Zeev Feinberg reflects the man’s vitality;  Sonia always smells of oranges; her son Yair of peaches; houses freeze or heat up, according to the emotions experienced within. That tone led me to believe there would be, after all the trivialities, raising children, working to earn a living, eating a good meal or two, a mellow, contented, if not exactly happy, ending. But then, after all that effort, both personal and political, when the homeland had been gained (see footnote), out of the blue, the cruellest tragedy of all.

Crack.  That’s the sound of my heart breaking all over again.

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Footnote: The personal drama is, of course, an allegory for the political events of the day. Cf: Review at Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau

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This post is part of the Pushkin Press Fortnight 2017, organised by Stu of Winstonsdad.

It’s also a stop 3 of my Around the World and Back Again with Pushkin Press reading project. Next stop: Austria

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image

Translated from Japanese by Michael Emmerich

Inoue burst onto the Japanese literary scene in 1949 with two novellas, the second of which won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize.  But it was his debut that pleased me more.

The Hunting Gun is a novella set within a traditional framework. This is a structure that always delights me, as it allows an exploration of both past and present, adding additional poignancy to the present, when that is a sad one.  It’s particularly effective here in that it left me feeling much more sympathy towards a character who, in some respects, deserves his current lot.

Following publication of a prose poem describing a man seen climbing Mount Amagi with his dog, a double-barrel shotgun resting on his shoulder, the unnamed narrator is surprised to receive a letter from Misugi Josuke claiming to have been the subject  of the poem.  He also sends her three letters, one from his niece, the second from his wife, and the third, a posthumous letter from his lover. He wants to share the reasons for the desolatedried-up riverbed of a man the poet recognised within him.

The three letters form the body  of the novella, and they tell of a family destroyed by a long-standing secret.  When Josuke’s niece, Shoko, reads her mother’s diary following her death by suicide, she is shocked to discover that her mother and Josuke had been lovers for years.  You might expect the potential damage of the affair to dissipate once the lover is dead.  However, Saiko’s death turns out to be the catalyst for the complete disintegration of the family, as the two living women react in wholly unexpected ways.

Revisiting the affair from 3 viewpoints – the shocked niece, the abandoned wife, and the beloved – the letters are so psychologically astute that they provide a comprehensive answer to the question as to whether a man can write convincingly as a woman. Yes, yes, and thrice yes!  They show the damage inflicted  by the illicit affair, not only to the wife, Midori, (who has always known) but also to the lover – the burdens of betrayal, guilt and loneliness.  Also the contradictions inherent to human nature.  How can Saiko behave this way when she could not forgive her own  husband for imfidelity? All this and not a cliché in sight!

It appears that Josuke himself hasn’t suffered all that much, but following the receipt of the letters, it is his time to reap what he has sown.  He deserves much of it, but I still felt that his niece’s reaction was going to inflict far more pain that was his due.

The lover’s relationship in Bullfight is far more opaque.  That Tsugami (married, wife and two children living elsewhere) and Saikiko (war widow) are unhappy is not in question. This is the first mention of them as a couple: but Saikiko had come over the previous evening and they had started quarrelling, as they always did, about whether or not to break up. As the novella progresses, and one unhappy scene follows another, you’ve got to assume that Saikiko regrets being attracted by Tsugami’s unsavoury side.

Elsewhere Tsugami is described as an isolated lonely, soul with a core that refused to catch. In matters of the heart, maybe. He’s a different entity altogether when it comes to business, particularly that business of the bullfight. Tsugami, as editor-in-chief of a newspaper, agrees to sponsor a Japanese bullfighting tournament (one in which bull fights bull).  Besides generating money for the paper from ticket sales and onsite gambling, it will bring some colour back to war-torn Osaka and make his name.  From the start though the enterprise is beset with difficulty, with setback after setback, and exponentially rising costs.  Tsugami is engaged in an exhausting bullfight with his own project, forced eventually to accept the help of black marketeers and other shady characters to gain a chance of success.

The impact of this is that Tsugami, the cool lover, becomes the distanced one, and Saikiko’s love threatens to turn to hate.  She’s not even sure whether she wants Tsugami’s big gamble to succeed or fail.  While Tsugami’s project allows Inoue to invest his tale with a measure of post-war state-of-the-nation analysis,   I always felt that the bullfight itself was a metaphor for the struggle and tussle of Tsugami’s and Saikiko’s relationship – a suspicion finally confirmed in the dramatic closing scene.


This post is part of the Pushkin Press Fortnight 2017, organised by Stu of Winstonsdad.

It’s also the start of my Around the World and Back Again with Pushkin Press Reading Project.  For my first circuit I’ll be travelling East to West from and to Japan.  I enjoyed Inoue’s clarity so much, that I’ll be reading  Life of A Counterfeiter upon my return.

Next stop: Russia

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