Tag-Archive for ◊ Henry ◊

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:
• Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Anita Shreve was born in Dedham Massachusetts in 1946 from an airline pilot father and a housewife mother. She graduated from Tufts University. She worked as high school teacher at Amherst College, Massachusetts. She started writing her novels while working. She was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975 for her book “Past The Island, Drifting”.

She then stopped writing fiction in the late 1970s and worked as a journalist in Nairobi, Kenya for three years. She wrote for Quest magazine, US magazine, New York Times and New York magazine. She decided to give up journalism and dedicate herself full-time to writing fiction. Her books were translated into many languages and she won The Pen L.L. Winship Award and the New England Book Award for fiction. She currently lives between Longmeadow Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Anita Shreve wrote several novels :
Eden Close in 1989.
Strange Fits of Passion in 1991.
Where or When in 1993.
Resistance in 1995.
The Weight of Water in 1997.
The Pilot’s Wife in 1998.
Fortune’s Rocks in 2000.
Sea Glass in 2002.

She wrote non-fiction books :
Dr. Balter’s Child Sense in 1985.
Dr. Balter’s Baby Sense in 1985.
Working Woman in 1986.
Remaking Motherhood in 1987.
Who’s in Control in 1988.
Women Together, Women Alone in 1989.

Kathryn is the pilot’s wife and she is the main character of the novel. The story is about her tragedy, her distress, her love, her deceit and her rage, and how she has to deal with the initial shock when she is woken up in the middle of the night by a knock on the door to be told by Robert Hart, the pilot’s union employee, that her husband died in a plane crash with 103 passengers, 10 miles off the coast of Ireland and that there were no survivors.

The novel is divided in two parts, the first half describes in simple, clear prose Kathryn’s struggle to deal with her shock, loss and grievance, while trying to pull herself together for the sake and protection of her 16-year old daughter Mattie, with the help of the kind Robert Hart.

This part holds some hints to prepare readers for what follows in the second half which is full of unexpected painful revelations, challenging Kathryn’s prowess to deal with the truth of her marriage and what has become of it. What appeared at the beginning to be a sad and quiet story turns out to be a gripping one, a thriller combined with the difficult defiance between loss, love and betrayal but also about some hope for the future.

Anita Shreve manages to make a good, captivating read out of a banal, common theme of betrayal and adultery.

Kathryn finds it very hard to bring together her happy memory of a stable, peaceful and uneventful married life in a beautiful home overlooking the ocean in Ely, New Hampshire, a bright teenage daughter, with a husband she cared for dearly, and thought that she knew, with the harsh deceitful reality of who Jack really was. A mixed feeling of grief and danger which triggers her determination to seek the truth at any cost after hearing all the unbelievable rumours, and after discovering various pieces of paper in Jack’s pocket and in his bath-robe with initials and phone numbers which she knew nothing about. She was ready to go through it all even if its outcome turns out to be devastating for her. In any case Kathryn knew that nothing will ever be the same again.

Anita Shreve portrays Kathryn’s confusion and disbelief in switching the chapters constantly from the present with all it’s unpleasantness and cruel devastation, to flashes of the serene, tranquil and more reassuring past. She has masterfully succeeded in conveying Kathryn’s feelings by contrasting the two lives through juxtaposition.

Anita Shreve’s books are often categorized under “women’s novels” due to her acquired art of describing women’s distressful feelings and sensibilities. The Pilot’s Wife appears to be a puzzle that Kathryn tries throughout the novel to unravel piece by piece. She thought she knew her husband but found out that she was living with a complete stranger she knew nothing about.

The readers are aware of that through what Mattie was telling her mother about the rumour that the pilot committed suicide : “Mattie you knew your father.” “Maybe”. “What does that mean ?” “Maybe I didn’t know him” Mattie said. “Maybe he was unhappy”. “If your father was unhappy, I’d have known.” “But how do you ever know that you know a person ?” she asked. What Kathryn didn’t know is that no matter how well you know a loved one intimately, there is always a little secret garden that each one keeps to oneself.

After meeting Muire Boland, Jack’s second wife and seeing their two children, Kathryn was overwhelmed with the sad and crude reality of her suspicion, which led her to drive all the way to the Irish coast, where the plane crashed. She decided to unburden herself from the weight she was carrying by throwing her wedding ring into the sea to join Jack at the bottom of the ocean. She wanted a new start by getting rid of the past and like that the healing operation can take place.

The Pilot’s Wife is an easy, readable book, the style is clear and simple. The plot was progressing well but then the author decided to end the story abruptly leaving a couple of loose threads untied.
The involvement of Jack with the IRA which led to the plane explosion was not explained sufficiently, and the relationship between Kathryn and Robert Hart was left undeveloped.

Anita Shreve was asked in an interview where did she get the idea for The Pilot’s Wife? She answered : “A novel is a collision of ideas. Three or four threads may be floating around in the writer’s consciousness, and at a single moment in time, these ideas collide and produce a novel… I overheard a conversation between a pilot and a woman at a party. Something he said lodged in my consciousness and wouldn’t go away. The thing he said was : When there’s a crash, the union always gets there first. He meant that when there was a crash of a commercial airliner, a member of the pilot’s union made it a point to get to the pilot’s wife house first. There are a lot of reasons for this, the most important of which is to keep her from talking to the press. And there was a collision of ideas.” which produced The Pilot’s Wife.

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