Tag-Archive for ◊ Manners ◊

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:
• Friday, April 29th, 2011

Fadia Faqir was born in 1956 in Amman, Jordan to a conservative family where she was one of nine children. She obtained her BA degree in English Literature from the University of Amman, followed by an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University, England.

In 1990 Fadia Faqir was awarded the first Ph.D in Critical and Creative Writing by the University of East Anglia. She was the senior editor of the Arab Women Writers Series, for which she received the 1995 New Venture Award.

Fadia Faqir is a defender of human rights, especially in the Arab world. She is a member of the Board of Al-Raida, a feminist journal published by the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon. She now lives with her Hungarian, Irish, English, husband in Durham in the north of England.

Fadia Faqir has written three novels to date :
Nisanit in 1990.
Pillars of Salt in 1998.
My Name Is Salma in 2007 which was published in several countries and translated into fourteen languages.
She has also written some short stories and play scripts.

Young Salma is a wild Muslim Arab shepherdess who likes playing the reed pipe to her goats, frolicking in nature and swimming in the river. She lives with her parents and elder brother, Mahmoud, in Hima, in a bedouin village in the Levant. Her family is very conservative, consequently her care-free life ends when she gets pregnant out of wedlock by her young lover, Hamdan, which brings dishonour upon her family.

She has to escape before her brother kills her, so as to purify the family’s blood and restore their honour, by taking refuge in the Islah prison where she gives birth to a baby girl. But Salma’s baby girl is snatched out of her arms at birth by her cell mate, Noura and given to the prison warden to put in a home for illegitimate children, despite Salma’s shouting and screaming to retain her.

Salma is then smuggled into Lebanon by a nun and lives in a convent before seeking refuge and safety in England and settling in the city of Exeter. It is difficult for the unsophisticated bedouin young woman to be so abruptly uprooted and reject her upbringing, confront a different culture and meld Salma into Sal or Sally, her English adopted names.

Salma tries to adopt a good English accent and manners from her elderly English landlady, Elizabeth, but will always remain and feel an alien outside her village. She can’t bury the past which haunts her constantly and certainly can’t forget Layla, the daughter she left behind and yearns for and who will be the end of her.

Salma is torn between wanting to live and her feeling of guilt, which according to her beliefs, deserves death as punishment. Her defiant character pushes her to seek a job as a seamstress and to take a second job in the evening in a hotel bar in order to make more money to be able to pay her bills. She even enrolls in an English literature course in the Open University to improve her English and marries her Geordie teacher, John Robson, and bears him a baby son, Imran.

Salma even has a social life as she becomes a close friend of the retired Welsh headmistress, Gwen and also enjoys the friendship of Parvin, a Pakistani young woman who, like Salma, escaped from her family to avoid an arranged marriage imposed on her by her father.

Both young women have in common the feeling of injustice dictated by their family’s inherited, intransigent conventions and the fear of being caught by their kin after breaking away. Salma and Parvin are vulnerable, insecure and apprehensive about their future. They form a good match and therefore become of invaluable support and comfort to each other.

Nevertheless, Salma can’t help perceiving herself as a sinner and therefore unworthy of living. An infidel who is no longer a Muslim, an impure, a kind of a living filth who deserves to be beaten to death. She has an obstinate, strong character and determination for survival combined with a strain of self-hatred and self-destruction.

The whole novel is narrated by Salma who gives her point of views about her past and her present by random flashbacks between the Middle East and England, which at times disrupt the smooth running sequence of the narration. The author declares that the structure of the novel is deliberate in order to convey that Salma felt alienated from both communities: the permissive West and her very conservative own community.

The main subject of the novel deals with cross-cultures, oppression, violence against women and the position of the female gender in society in certain patriarchal communities, portrayed by the author through honour killings and forced marriages. Serious and complex subjects treated with skill and with a pinch of humour.

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