Tag-Archive for ◊ 2006.He ◊

Author:
• Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Kanegae Hideyoshi was born in Harbin, China in 1926 and his pen-name was Mitsugu Saotome. He studied at Keio University’s Literature Department but left before obtaining a degree.

In 1954, Yamamoto Shugoro, the popular Japanese novelist and short-story writer, accepted to be Saotome’s mentor.

Before writing novels about the Japanese Warring States period from the pre-modern to modern times (1868 to 1912), he was publishing period fiction and historical stories in journals.

In 1968 Mitsugu Saotome was awarded the prestigious Naoki Prize for his novel Kyojin No Ori (The Cage Of The Traveller) and in 2006 he was elected chairman of the Japanese P.E.N..

Saotome is well known as a writer of Japanese historical fiction. He claimed that this interest derived from the fact that he was descended from a Samurai of the Aizu-Wakamatsu domain and therefore he had a special affection for Aizu-Wakamatsu, the land of his ancestors.

He was a prolific writer, his novels are very popular in Japan and several of them have been adapted into feature films and television series. Okei was first published in Japan in 1974 and was translated into English in 2008. Unfortunately, Okei seems to be the only novel of all his work which has been translated into English.

Mitsugu Saotome died in 2008 of stomach cancer in the city of Kamakura in Kanagawa prefecture, Japan.

The epic story of Okei is set in the second half of the nineteenth century, in the mountainous town of Aizu-Wakamatsu, during a turbulent internal bloody period of Japanese history. It’s the transitional period between the end of the feudal shogunate, from 1853 to 1867, and the restoration of the Meiji era which lasted from 1868 to 1912.

The shogun had a very strong military power in Japan which relegated the power of the emperor to solely being a religious and political leader. The word Meiji means enlightened rule, which had as its target the combination of Western progress with Eastern established values. The Meiji era saw the disappearance of the Keio period and with it the city of Edo which became the “Eastern Capital” Tokyo and replaced the ancient capital, Kyoto, located in the western part of the country.

Okei, the main character of the novel and the one that stands out against all the others, is a teenage-peasant cooper’s daughter, who despite very strict rules, with class distinctions rigorously enforced, plus the Samurai complex code of honour, falls passionately in love with the young Samurai, Sasanuma Kingo. Her ardent flame isn’t shared by Kingo, being himself in love with Yukiko, the widow of the senior councillor, Jinbo Shuri, who had taken his own life by committing Seppuku (Harakiri) in order to wash his shame, as was the tradition among Samurai when they displeased their master.

The author describes how throughout centuries people had established connections and loyalties to the local feudal lord because his defeat meant the defeat of his clan and how the long established code of manners, loyalties and obedience started to fade from Japanese society and was replaced by new values. Aizu has lived three hundred years of peace before the Westerners violated the eastern land and were hated for it.

Okei, whose character is well developed in the novel, lived a short but intense life. In fact, her forlorn life and death are tragic. She matures too soon due to circumstances which she can’t fathom most of the time. The innocent, hard working, romantic girl becomes more reasonable and acquiescent to harsh reality. She is nearly raped by Edward Schnell when she is asleep in his warehouse loft. Luckily, Henry Schnell, Edward’s elder and wiser brother, who is nearby, comes to the rescue. The two Dutch brothers, Henry and Edward are suppliers of up-to-date arms and canons to the western Japanese. They have dissimilar characters, Edward is frivolous, liking to use Japanese women for his pleasure only and thinks little of them, while Henry is more level-headed, respects them and marries one of them, the widow, Matsuno.

Throughout her life, Okei has to re-adapt. Whether it is due to the war and the starting of a new era in Japan and with it the change of mentalities and new codes, or the emigration to the new world for survival. She has to learn to readjust, like her compatriots, to the American culture in Coloma, California, the El Dorado country, where the big Gold Rush took place from 1848 to 1855, fourteen years before Okei and her rural community arrived in the area.

Until her last breath, Okei was longing to go back to her home in Aizu but realised that her feet took her where she had to be buried, at the site of the old settlement, on top of Gold Hill colony in California.

If only she hadn’t murdered an imperial army officer, in panic, fear and in self defence and especially after the Crane Castle had fallen. She was certain that her deed would be considered a crime rather than an act of war and that is why she could never go back to her beloved Aizu. She realised and accepted that she had to submit to her fate and to the fact that the so far trustworthy, Henry and his wife, who was her mistress and friend, left California for Japan without ever keeping contact with her which is a big disappointment for Okei and a betrayal of the trust she had for them.

Touching in parts, violent and bloody in others, it’s a well documented novel with abundant action. A very colourful epic with vividly intense historical details. A good insight into Japanese and American history of the time.

 

 


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Author:
• Wednesday, March 04th, 2009

Colm Toibin was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford in the South East of Ireland in 1955. His father who was a school teacher and a local historian, died when Toibin was twelve years old.

Colm Toibin is the second youngest of five children. He went to St Peter’s college in Wexford and later studied English and History at University College in Dublin. After graduating he left Ireland and taught English for four years in the Dublin School of English in Barcelona (Spain).

He went back to Ireland in 1979 and worked as a journalist at In Dublin, then at Magill magazine followed by the Sunday Independent in Dublin, was a contributor to Esquire, the London Review of Books, New Statsmen, The Times Literary Supplement and the Irish Review.

He has been visiting professor at Stanford University and The University of Texas in Austin. He also lectured at other universities, including Boston College and New York University. Colm Toibin lives and works in Dublin. He is one Ireland’s leading contemporary writers.

Toibin won several awards. He is the author of number of fiction and non-fiction works.
Fiction:
The South, 1990
The Heather Blazing, 1992
The Story of The Night, 1996
The Blackwater Lightship, 1999
The Master, 2004
Mothers and Sons, 2006.

He has also written ten non-fiction books and a play staged in Dublin in 2004 called: Beauty in a Broken Place.

Mothers and Sons is Toibin’s first collection of short stories. Three long stories and six short ones of which, eight stories are set in contemporary Ireland and the last one in a village in the Pyrenees in provincial Spain.

In his book the author describes the relationships forged between mothers and sons in their adulthood; the very fine unseen tie woven between them,their lack of communication and understanding with what it entails of heartbreak and sadness, despair, loneliness and sometime guilt. The author also tackles the problem of how to deal with one’s losses of a dear one.

Toibin succeeds in conveying with great sensitivity and melancholy, the psychology that shapes, each time differently, mother to son or son to mother. Whether the son is a professional thief, or faced with his estranged mother, or a paedophile priest, or sad over his mother’s death, or suffering from depression, or looking for her under the snow.

The nine stories, despite the book title which infers love and warmth, are all gloomy, unhappy and devoid of the cosy feeling that could be expected between mothers and sons. Instead there is the deep pain inflicted by sons on their mothers and the consequences of mothers’ behaviour on their sons, which combined with the harsh reality of life that each side is faced with, helps to create an isolation between the two sides.

Toibin’s choice of short stories, lack of landscape description, or any usage of flowery prose for this delicate subject is deliberate and most suitable. His way to make the readers feel the pain of the character, by keeping the intensity of the feeling which could have been easily lost in a long story.

Toibin’s description of endurance, separation and longing with such depth, shows a keen understanding of the complex human psychology and its frailty, which is movingly haunting and thought provoking.

The author didn’t impose himself as a moralist, in fact the reader is not sure who is the unscrupulous and who is the sympathetic character because of the palpable but unspoken emotions. All the stories are left without a classical ending intentionally. Toibin wanted to withhold the conclusion in order to confront his readers with a conflict,dramatise it and leave it at that.

Mothers and Sons is melancholic like all other Toibin’s novels. The answer of the author to that, is in one of his interviews, he says : “When I started out writing I would have considered myself to be quite happy. I’m not a sad boy, but the books are full of terrible melancholy. I’ve learned about it from writing the books. If I had known all this about myself before I started, I probably would have gone into serious therapy instead of writing.”

Toibin’s style of writing is pure and neat without being cold. Mothers and Sons continues to collect international acclaim.

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