Tag-Archive for ◊ teacher ◊

• Friday, June 15th, 2018

Hiromi Kawakami was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1958. She is a 1980 graduate of Biology from Ochanomizu Women’s University in Tokyo, where her degree thesis was on “reproduction in sea urchins”. In 1982, Kawakami worked for four years as a biology teacher at Denenchoolori High School. She stopped working in 1986, became a housewife after her marriage and childbirth and because of her husband’s work involving living in another region of Japan. She divorced in 2009.

In 1994 she won the Pascal Short Story Prize for New Writers for her first book, Kamisama, God.
She became well known in 1996 for her book Hebi Wo Fumu, Record Of A Night, which won the Akutagawa Prize that year.

The Briefcase, Sensei no Kaban, published in Japanese in 2001 and English in 2012, won the Junichiro Tanizaki Prize, one of Japan’s much sought-after literary awards. It was a best-seller, translated into several languages and was adapted for television. Kawakami is known as a haiku poet, a literary critic and a provocative essayist. She is one of the most acclaimed writers in Japan.

The narrator of The Briefcase, Tsukiko, is a solitary thirty-seven-year-old liberated woman who likes to eat and drink sake and beer at her local bar. She is an office worker and lives alone in an apartment in Tokyo. One night she goes to her usual local bar and sits at the counter next to a man who stares at her, a conversation ensues.

She discovers that the man sitting next to her is Mr Harutsuna Matsumoto, her former high school teacher, but now a retired widower in his seventies. In her school days, she used to address him as Sensei (teacher) and will continue to call him Sensei throughout the story.

With random ones to follow, this fortuitous meeting will lead to an unusual relationship which develops calmly and unobtrusively into an attachment that grows stronger with time to become deep affection. Tsukiko and Sensei drink and eat in the same place, alone or together. They go shopping on Saturdays, go wild mushroom foraging in the mountains with their local barman and his brother, on a Sunday. They even spend a weekend in each other’s company in a spa. They nevertheless respect their mutual privacy and freedom.

Whenever and whatever place he goes to, morning or evening, Sensei always carries his inseparable briefcase. Hence the title of the novel and the last chapter heading.

The Briefcase evokes several themes: loneliness, subtle romance and tasty seasonal food. It also underlines the beauty of nature in every season. Like the picnics in the spring to admire the spectacular show of cherry blossom (Sakura), the weekend excursion to an island in a small guest house with a scenic view over the sea in the summer. The mushroom picking in the woods including the spectacular starry nights in the autumn. Moreover, the enjoyment of a warm sake in the harshly cold winter. The array of dishes described represent a gourmet reference to Japanese seasonal, tasty food, loved and appreciated by the two protagonists.

The Briefcase is a bitter-sweet story written with a good deal of sensitivity and interspersed with some Japanese haïku (unrhymed Japanese poems). The novel is charming as well as compelling in its simplicity, its straightforwardness with no chain of events nor suspense, like a Japanese print whose beauty relies on its purified, minimal art style. The author focuses on the relationship between the two solitary, unsuited people, Tsukiko and Sensei. They are different from each other in every aspect but succeed gradually to discover one another. Their feelings evolve slowly at the same rhythm as the changing seasons to become a selfless love-relationship that surpasses the age gap and conventional traditions.

At the end of the novel, we unexpectedly discover that the whole story has been a flashback, a sweet melancholic reminiscence by Tsukiko about her short time with Sensei before he died. His desolate absence, leaving her disconsolate with his empty briefcase – which used to be an essential part of him – lying next to her dressing table. It is a moving ending to a refined, poetic novel.

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• Saturday, March 19th, 2016

Mikhail Afanasyevich Boulgakov was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1891, during the Russian empire, and died from a kidney disease in 1940 in Moscow during the Soviet era. He was one of seven children, the eldest of three brothers. His father was an assistant professor at the Kiev Theological Academy and his mother a former teacher.

After finishing high school, Boulgakov studied medicine at the Medical Faculty of Kiev University. He graduated in 1916 and worked as a surgeon in Chernovtsy hospital in Ukraine before dedicating his life to writing: plays, novels and short stories. He married three times, the first in 1913, the second in1924 and the third time in 1931.

Boulgakov was known for his scathing attacks on the communist regime which caused his disgrace by the authorities and by 1930 he was no longer allowed to publish his work. His request for permission to leave the country was refused and his literary ostracism remained until he died. Boulgakov was posthumously and slowly rehabilitated ten years after his death in the late 1950s but it wasn’t until 1962 that many of his plays, novels and short stories were published.

Heart Of A Dog, written in Russian and published in 1925 was banned from publication by the Soviet authorities soon after, because it was considered to be controversial and regarded as an allegory of the unsuccessful Russian revolution as well as a criticism of the new regime and an attack on their political idealism. The novel was first translated into English by Michael Glenny in 1968, long before it was allowed to be officially published in the Soviet Union in 1987, sixty-two years after the novel had been written and forty-seven years after Boulgakov’s death.

The story is set in Moscow in the early nineteen twenties. It starts with a badly mistreated, injured, suffering and moaning street mongrel dog, who due to starvation has been rummaging through dustbins searching for food when a cruel cook scolds it with boiling water as a deterrent. The poor dog, out of breath, lies in agony under a porch, crying and bitterly bemoaning his fate, his rough life and the challenges he has to endure for survival, especially in the cold freezing winter.

The renowned surgeon, professor Filip Filippovitch, who happens to be passing, encounters the shabby dog. The professor gives him a piece of sausage, buys him food, takes him home, feeds him, looks after him and treats his badly wounded, burnt flank.

The dog is given the name Sharik (a common name given to dogs in Russia) and is a Godsend for the professor who wants to carry out an audacious experiment, with the help of his assistant, Dr Bormenthal, by transplanting the genital glands as well as the pituitary gland of a freshly dead human unto Sharik’s body. The result is astoundingly successful but the draw back is that the good natured dog becomes an uncontrollable, lustful, hairy man with a foul vocabulary, a thug, an alcoholic and a petty thief like the twenty-eight-year old deceased man he is replacing. Nevertheless, he still keeps some of the dog impulse like hating and chasing cats.

Sharik evolves into Sharikov and blends in well with communist society by becoming an eager government worker. When Professor Filippovitch is faced with all the indoor and outdoor problems that Sharikov is creating he becomes strict with him by trying to educate him to be civil, reasonable and act responsibly but to no avail. Sharikov resents the professor and his strict discipline. In fact he dislikes him intensely and threatens to denounce him to the authorities for being a reactionary by making negative remarks against the revolution.

Heart Of A Dog narrated by the dog, Sharikov, is a scornful satirical comedy on pseudo-science, a surreal mixture of fact and fantasy. The author denounces the corruption, prejudice and bigotry of the communist regime and its leaders who were more intent on pillage and class vindictiveness than creating a better new life for their citizens. In his novel the author expresses, through professor Filippovitch, the overcritical protagonist, his disapprobation of the Soviet system by depicting a 1917 revolution that lost its way and went wrong.

The unprecedented, presumptuous, cruel and inhuman experiment that Professor Filippovitch and his assistant Dr Bormenthal undertake, depicts the folly of men who don’t know the limits of their power and start tampering with the unknown, to the detriment of celestial and natural powers, to end up with an alarmingly threatening and fiendish result. Heart Of A Dog is an imaginative story with a strong message that can be interpreted as an allegory of the Soviet Union’s political system, which is like professor Filippovitch’s experiment on the stray dog, clearly doomed to failure.

Luckily, with the experiment done on Sharik, there is a reversibility. After realising his failure, professor Filippovitch undertakes a surgical operation on Sharikov, this time removing the human glands and transplanting to Sharik his original genital and pituitary glands which had been preserved. After the successful reverse operation, the uncontrollable, ungrateful fake human, Sharikov returns to his former harmless state as the pleasant, grateful dog, Sharik.

At the time of writing his novel, Boulgakov didn’t know that his wish would come true, one day, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 after about seventy years of existence and fifty one years after his death. Mikhail Boulgakov was a man with a vision that was ahead of its time.