Ōe and Beyond: Fiction in Contemporary Japan

Fiction in Contemporary Japan

Title: Ōe and Beyond: Fiction in Contemporary Japan
Editors: Stephen Snyder and Philip Gabriel
Essays: 12, with an Introduction by the editors
Publication Year: 1999 (America)
Pages: 317

This book, while undeniably academic, is perhaps the most important resource for students of contemporary Japanese literature. Included in this book are twelve essays by prominent scholars on the biggest names in post-war Japanese literature. There are essays on political writers like Ōe Kenzaburō and Nakagami Kenji, feminist writers like Ohba Minako and Takahashi Takako, and contemporary popular writers like Murakami Haruki and Banana Yoshimoto. Each of these essays aims to look at the writer as a whole, considering his or her major works and themes, while at the same time attempting to evaluate his or her place in the larger body of modern and postmodern Japanese literature. Every essay is a sound piece of scholarly work, and none of the analyses rely on theory unfamiliar to a college graduate.

Because these essays are so general and yet so rigorous in their approach, I would like to recommend the collection to general readers, as well as specialists, who have cultivated an interest in a particular writer. You won’t be disappointed by what you find. The short introductory essay is also a wonderful introduction to the state of Japanese literature at the turn on the 21st century.

Here is a list of the writers treated by the essays, as well as the authors of the essays themselves. An astute observer (such as myself, haha) will notice that many of the essayists are their subjects’ primary translators, a fact which attests to their close relationship with the authors and their works.

1. Ōe Kenzaburō (Susan Napier)
2. Endō Shūsaku (Van C. Gessel)
3. Hayashi Kyōko (Davinder L. Bhowmick)
4. Ohba Minako (Adrienne Hurley)
5. Takahashi Takako (Mark Williams)
6. Nakagami Kenji (Eve Zimmerman)
7. Kurahashi Yumiko (Atsuko Sakaki)
8. Murakami Haruki (Jay Rubin)
9. Murakami Ryū (Stephen Synder)
10. Shimada Masahiko (Philip Gabriel)
11. Kanai Mieko (Sharalyn Orbaugh)
12. Yoshimoto Banana (Ann Sheif)

The Diving Pool

The Diving Pool

Title: The Diving Pool
Japanese Title: ダイヴィング・プール
Author: Yoko Ogawa (小川洋子; Ogawa Yōko)
Translator: Stephen Snyder
Publication Year: 2008 (America); 1991 (Japan)
Pages: 176

This is the first collection of Ogawa’s fiction to be translated into English, and veteran translator Stephen Snyder (Murakami Ryū’s Coin Locker Babies, Kirino Natsuo’s Out) does Ogawa’s sparse and poetic style justice with his smooth and intelligent translation. This volume includes three short stories: “The Diving Pool,” “Pregnancy Diary,” and “Dormitory.” Although each of these stories is firmly grounded in reality, I don’t think it would be too far-fetched to call them ghost stories. These eerie stories, although aesthetically beautiful and highly reminiscent of their setting in modern, urban Japan, derive their main appeal from an insightful portrayal of the small cruelties that people inflict on each other. The fact that all of Ogawa’s characters are eminently sympathetic, combined with the lovely details of their daily lives, gives the subtle yet bizarre twist at the end of each story all the more impact.

I really cannot recommend this book enough, not just to people interested in Japanese literature, but to anyone who loves to read. It gives me great pleasure to start off this blog with this wonderful book!