I picked up a couple of Japanese short story compilations from our local library earlier this week – Autumn Wind and Other Stories selected and translated by Lane Dunlop, and a collection of Japanese detective/crime stories – Japanese Detective Stories edited by American detective fiction icon Ellery Queen.
Before delving into these collections I hadn’t read much in the way of Japanese short stories; although the short story is a genre that I do enjoy. In New Zealand we have a wealth of short story writers from the very famous such as Katherine Mansfield through to excellent contemporary masters of the genre such as Owen Marshall. In fact I would say that New Zealand writers excel at short story writing much more than they do in the field of longer fiction.
Autumn Wind and Other Stories is a curious collection of stories spanning the majority of the 20th century. There are short stories by famous Japanese writers including Kawabata Yasunari and Akutagawa Ryunosuke as well as a number of works by lesser-known authors. Stylistically these stories in general are a little challenging for Western readers as they tend to seem vague and often lack the sense of closure we take for granted in short stories. These short stories on the whole are more like impressionist paintings with the reader having to do much of the work to fill in the gaps in terms “what happens.” I enjoyed Nagai Kafu’s The Fox (1909) the most of the works in this collection. Its strong sense of nostalgia for a “better past” reminded me strongly of Tanizaki’s Naomi (they make a nice contrast I feel).
The other collection, Japanese Detective Stories was more enjoyable, with the detective genre’s plot driven stories much easier and more satisfying to me. Originally published in the late 1970′s the copy I read was a reprint released by Japanese publishing company Tuttle. The original title was Ellery Queen’s Japanese Golden Dozen: The Detective Story World in Japan. Ellery Queen was actually 2 brothers who conspired(;-)) together to create the character / author Ellery Queen. As the longer title would suggest this collection brings together a dozen of the best Japanese detective stories. These stories were all published in the 1970′s and were selected from more then 2500 stories.
If one doesn’t read the Japanese language, then short stories can be hard to find, appearing as they do usually in periodical publications such as magazines. Therefore collections such as Autumn Wind and Japanese Detective Stories serve a valuable purpose, bridging the Japanese and English language worlds.