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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Twelve Days of Translated Fiction - Day Eleven - My best reads for 2014

One of the highlights of the year was the stunningly presented Pushkin Collection books from London publisher Pushkin Press. The works I read and reviewed were all typeset in Monotype Baskerville, litho-printed on Munken Premium White Paper and notch-bound by the independently owned printer TJ International in Padstow. The covers, with French flaps, are printed on Colorplan Pristine White Paper and both the paper and the cover board are acid-free and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. Lovely books to hold and read it is worth purchasing for the aesthetic value alone – I know I’ll be buying more.

The three works that I reviewed from the Pushkin Collection were all by Japanese writer Yasushi Inoue, “born in 1907, Yasushi Inoue worked as a journalist and literary editor for many years, only beginning his prolific career as an author in 1949 with “Bullfight”. He went on to publish 50 novels and 150 short stories, both historical and contemporary, his work making him one of Japan’s major literary figures. In 1976 Inoue was presented with the Order of Culture, the highest honour granted for artistic merit in Japan. He died in 1991.”

Of the three works I read and reviewed by Inoue I was most touched by “Bullfight” his first work. The story of a traditional sumo bullfight where the spectators bet on the outcome “in these post war days, perhaps this was just the sort of thing the Japanese needed if they were going to keep struggling through their lives.” Considering this was written only four years after the end of World War Two, the feeling of rebuilding, of loss, of struggling to be someone is a strong theme throughout.

Our main character is Tsugami, an editor-in-chief of the Osaka New Evening post. A recently established venture (remember this is post war Japan) which is financially insecure, with minimal working capital it is slowly building an audience for being “a paper for the slightly unsavoury intellectual”. Tsugami, although married, has a mistress Sakiko, who is wavering on the longevity of their relationship.

Tsugami comes up with the idea to stage the traditional sumo bullfight in Osaka, at the local baseball stadium, where spectators can bet on the result of the fights, and over three days could potentially return the paper millions of yen in profit.

Tsugami had a wife and two children who were still living in his hometown in Tottori, where he had sent them to escape the bombing; Sakiko had a husband, a college friend of Tsugami’s, who had died at war and whose bones had not yet come home. Tsugami and Sakiko had first gotten involved while the war was still on, and their relationship continued just as it was after the fighting ended. Still, even Tsugami’s colleagues at the newspaper, who usually had such sharp eyes when it came to things like this, had yet to catch wind of their affair – a circumstance that Sakiko interpreted, at least at time, as another sign of his cunning.

A short work but one which contains a raft of subtlety and shady dealings, tension, loss, self-interest and corruption it is a revelation of post war Japan. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed all the works that I read from this collection (“Bullfight”, “The Hunting Gun” and “Life of a Counterfeiter”, this work has made my favourites of 2014 list as I felt it was the strongest of the three. That could be purely based on the fact that it was the first work of Inoue’s I had read and therefore have a sentimental place for the book.

Given the quality of his writing I will be delving into more of his writing as it becomes translated, as well as purchasing more of the Pushkin Collection books, they’ll make my bookshelf look very handsome indeed.

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