Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests








Sunday, January 17, 2021

The memory police by Yoko Ogawa- 1994- translated fom the Japanese by Stephen Snyder - 2019


 




The memory police by Yoko Ogawa- 1994- translated fom the Japanese by Stephen Snyder - 2019


The Japanese Literature Challenge 14 - Hosted by Dolce Bellezza 

January 1 to March 31. Japanese Literature Challenge 14


My prior posts for JL14 2021


  1. “Peony Lanterns” a Short Story by Aoko Matsuda - translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton -2020 - a delightful story you can read online. Linked to traditional stories of Ghosts
  2. Before The Coffee Gets Cold by TOSHIKAZU KAWAGUCHI -2020- an international bestseller


My first encounter with Yoko Ogawa was during Jl3 in March of 2010.

As of now I have posted on two additional novels by Ogawa, Hotel Iris and her most famous work The Housekeeper and The Professor as well as eight shorter works.  Like Memory Police, The Housekeeper and The Professor are centered on the consequences of memory failure.  The Housekeeper and The Professor is a realistic mode work about a man whose short time memory only extends back one day.  The Memory Police is a dystopic s/f work about a culture wide mandated memory lose.  Things people do not remember disappear.


The Memory Police takes place on an unnamed island where things are disappearing, starting with hats, ribbons  birds and roses.  Most people have no memory left of the disappered things, those who do are dealt with by the memory police.  The Menory Police are a Gestapo like organization.  The narrator is a novelist.  Her editor is being sought by The memory Police so she decides to hide him.  Gradually more and more things begin to disappear including human body parts.  Things get stranger as the plot  proceeds.


I found Tbe Memory Police very interesting.  We never have a clear idea of why this is happening, just a few speculative notions.





About the Author Yoko Ogawa’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, Granta, and Zoetrope: All-Story. Since 1988 she has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction and has won every major Japanese literary award. She lives in Hyogo.


I Will next read for JL14 a noir novel THE LADY KILLER by Masako Togawa Translated by Simon Grove, first published in 1963.











Friday, January 15, 2021

A Man of Talent - A Short Story by Farah Ahamed - From Out of Print - December 2020


 A Man of Talent - A Short Story by Farah Ahamed - From Out of Print - December 2020


You may read today’s story. https://www.outofprintmagazine.co.in/farah-ahamed_a-man-of-talent 


Gateway to Farah Ahamed on The Reading Life


I first began to follow the work of Farah Ahamed on  April 3, 2015.  “A Man of Talent” is the eighth of her short stories upon which I have posted. I reserve such coverage for writers whose talent and insight I greatly value.


Several of her stories are set in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and deal with a wonderful character, Dr. Patel, of whom I have become very fond.


Here were my thoughts on first meeting Dr. Patel:



“In her "Dr. Patel" I see a masterful depiction of a man completely mired in a deep miasma of self-deception, unable to see how he appears to others, desperately seeking admiration. I will try to show how Ahamed creates a very real man in a well developed social environment in just a few pages.


We meet Dr. Patel on the way to a wedding reception of young man from one of the wealthiest families in Niarobi. I will catalogue his deceptions, of self and others.  Firstly he is not a doctor, either medical or academic.  It is just a title he sort of gave himself and thinks others call him that out of respect.  After twenty years working for Amber Investments he has become Human Resources director.  As anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world knows, this is a job normally reserved for time serving lackeys (W. B. Yeats would call him an errand boy).  Dr Patel is wearing his club tie, with the crest of an elite organization of which he is not a member.



 Many of those at the party have inherited their wealth, Dr. Patel tells himself he did not inherit his position.  At the reception he sits at a table near the family, hoping others will take this as meaning he is a close family friend.  He got the groom a job at Amber Investments at the request of the father of the groom and was short sighted enough to request an "administrative fee" for this, thus reducing himself to a petty dishonest minion where honesty might have made him a true family friend.”


In “A Man of Talent”, just a delightful at times hilarious story, we find Dr. Patel facing three challenges.  He has been stooped for speeding in Nairobi by a very officious policewoman who takes away his license when, doing what is customary, he offers her a gratuity.  She tells him he must come down to the police station to retrieve it.  His visit is perfectly realized by Ahamed.  His superior upon his arrival at work decks him down because Human Resources department employees do not seem to know the regulations of the company.  When he then calls in his employees things get worse.


Anyone who has ever worked for a large rule bound corporation will strongly relate to all the depictions of happenings at the company.


I would suggest if possible you read her other Dr. Patel stories, all linked to in my prior posts, to really see what a great character Farah Ahamed has created.  



Farah Ahamed’s short stories and essays have been published in Ploughshares, The Mechanics’ Institute Review, The Massachusetts’ Review amongst othersIn 2021, Pan Macmillan will publish her non-fiction anthology on menstruation experiences in South Asia. A human rights lawyer with a Diploma in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, Farah is currently working on a short story collection and a novel set in Lahore. She also has a complete book of Dr Patel stories. You can read more of her work here: farahahamed.com.


I hope to follow her literary work for years to come and salute her human rights work.


Mel u






Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Minnie’s Room - A Short Story by Mollie Panter -Downes - 1947







MINNIE’S ROOM  - A Short Story by Mollie Panter-Downes - first published August 17, 1947 in The New Yorker 



Mollie Panter - Downes






Born August 16, 1906


At age 16 writes a best selling novel The Shoreless Sea


1927 - Marries


In August 1938 she begins to write for The New Yorker.  From 1939 to 1945 she was their London Correspondent..  The New Yorker had first refusal on her work.  Ultimately she would publish 852 items in The New Yorker.   


September 3, 1939 England declares war on Germany 


January 27, 1997 - Surrey, England - dies 


Last month I read Good Evening, Mrs Crave - The Wartime Short Stories of Mollie Panter-Donnes - published by Persephone Books 1999 and loved it.  Written during the war before the outcome was known I drew from it a sense of connection to our Pandemic times in which people are learning to cope, getting by on less.  The people in her stories are privileged, just as her New Yorker readers mostly were and as honesty requires I acknowledge the same about our family in Metro Manila.  I have been under lock down since March, mandated by family as I am of a vulnerable age.  Like the people in Good Evening Mrs Crave I have occasionally felt deprived but I know with millions suffering real hardship here my issues border on the silly.  Anyway Panter-Downes also wrote, I think about ten, all published in The New Yorker, stories set in post war England.


Minnies Room, 1947, is included in a very good anthology, The Persephone Book of Short Stories, I recently acquired.


The opening paragraph perfectly sets the tone of the story:



“Minnie was an ugly little Londoner who had been cook to the Sothern family for twenty-five years. She had come to them ‘just a raw girl’, as Mrs Sothern was fond of explaining. The way she said it made Minnie sound like a lump of something dreadfully unappetising that Mrs Sothern’s skill had converted into a masterpiece of a dish. The words seemed to imply that the Sothern ladies, between them, had taught Minnie everything she knew. The truth was that Minnie was that extremely rare thing among the English, a natural magnificent cook, who would have found her medium and her style whatever happened. Before the war, her dinners were memorable, and Mr Sothern would say to his wife that though Minnie’s cooking was, of course, nothing like the French, when it came to something solid, like a roast the English. He was a big man, leaning, with Minnie’s assistance, toward corpulence. All the Sotherns were substantially built, and their house in Bayswater was veiled with muffling plush curtains and full of large, softly curved objects filled with down, covered with rosy glazed chintz, or padded with leather. Even the china figures in the drawing-room cabinets contributed to the overstuffed effect, representing, as they did, bonny, plump shepherdesses and well-fed sheep. When you entered the front door and planted your feet on the thick Turkey carpet, you breathed comfortable virtues in the air along with a whiff of whatever delicious food Minnie was cooking..”


The plot unrolls when the hitherto unthinkable happens, after 25 years Minnie gives her two week notice.





I think the collection of short stories The Persephone Book of Short Stories might be of interest to many in the group. Of the thirty stories in the collection dating from a 1909 story by Susan Glaspell, an American up to a story by Penelope Fitzgerald from 1986.  Only Mollie Parker-Downes has two stories.  There is one story in translation from the French by Irene Némrovsky. Fourteen of the writers seem to be in the Undervalued British Novelists 1930 to 1960.  There is a concise biography of each writer as well as first publication information on the stories.




 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Diamond Delivery -The Debut Publication of a Short Story by John Duffy


 










The first time I read a story by John Duffy it was during my read through of Abandoned Darlings, a collection of writings by the 2011 and 2012 MA in Creative Writing classes at the National University of Ireland at Galway. His story was about a very dangerous bus trip through the Andes in Bolivia.  (You can read my post on the story on the link above.). These words sum up how I felt about Duffy's really well done story, "Death Road".

You might have seen a National Geographic Channel program about the terribly dangerous road through the Andes in Bolivia that the narrator in this story crosses in a bus ride sure to scare anyone out of their wits who is not from there.   The first person speaker in this story is an Irishman out for an adventure in the wilds of South America and he happens to hook up with a beautiful and delightful sounding "French girl of Lebanese extraction".   Some cynics say the reason the English conquered India was because they could do things and have adventures there that they could never do at home.   I think that is part of the deeper theme of this very interesting marvelously cinematic story. 

Today I am very happy and honored that he has given me the oppurtunity to share another of his marvelous stories.  I have been following his work for over ten years and Will continue as long as I can.




John Duffy is from Ballina, County Mayo. He writes short fiction and poetry. John studied at NUI Galway and graduated with Master’s degree.

He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.


Wax the board

Slip on the wetsuit 

and Cycle to the beach. 

Enter dream time.



“Diamond Delivery”

By John Duffy 



Here, this will do, she is now, a massive tube of blue, yawning, curling and dripping in front. Holy mackerel. Turn around horse. Lying down for some rapid paddle, feels like you're going nowhere, suspended, then lifted by force from underneath, rising with it, taking position, real time in slow motion, until there's a drop of about six feet underneath and you realise you're on top of the thing, balance there, surrounded, thunderous motion over the shoulder, picking up speed, carried, swept along by the force, buzz, keep going there, hopping away on the board.

Walking up the beach.

Some people kicking football. Goal.

Thanks surf sista.

You're welcome.

Back at base Jen was heating tea in a saucepan over a gas flame. A plate of butter croissants with fried eggs on the bonnet of a Chevrolet truck.

The way she could turn it on. The way she fit snugly under my chin while holding her close. The smell of her head. It must have something to do with. The oily, aromatic smell of her head.

'Fair play.'

'How was it?'

'Unbelievable.'

'Will you have tea? Warm you up.' 'Please.'

We had some clothes hanging on a line.

Snow white talking to some dwarves at the bottom of the Barents Sea. Shorts, swim suits and towels.

It could only get better from there really.

'Hello there.'

Trevin picked up his flask of steaming drink and lit a smoke. 'We got kicked out,' Jen said.

'What?'



'We made too much noise last night. We can't stay here anymore.' 'We'll find somewhere else. This place is massive. I saw the map.' He looked around.

'Where?'

'I don’t know.'

'Marie is asking at reception.'

'Ok.'

'It's so lame. We can't sing. We can't have a fire on the beach. You're making too much noise, blah, blah.'

'We were not that loud.'

"I said that and she's like, 'Well, we had some complaints from guests, so.'"

'Listen, I was the first to go to bed. I don't know what happened after that.'

'He was a funny buck Jen.'

'Oh my God. He was hilarious.'

'He's a funny bloke, for sure.'

'I was in stitches.'

'He works here doesn't he?'

'I think so.'

'He was like, the jolliest man you ever met.'

'Just laughing away the whole time. It was hard not to laugh with him.'

'It's like, contagious or something.

'Strumming the guitar afterwards and we were all singing. It was so much fun.'

'Here, it looks like we're out of fire wood.'

'That's the lot,' he said, nodding at the embers around the pit. 'I'll get some more.'

'Sounds good.'

I met Marie outside reception,

‘Hi Marie.’

'Hey, so I spoke with the owner. She gave me some flyers for parks and hotels in the area.’ ‘What about that place near Lake Lotus?’

‘Right? We could go back there.’

‘And we’re not that far from the beach.’

‘Right? This is just the start of our adventure Jay. We’re going to have a great time. No matter what.’

‘For sure we will. That’s the spirit!’

I went down the path and across the road back towards the river.



After a while, by a pathway overgrown with early summer growth, salmon berries, a totem pole figure with arms outstretched wearing a denim gardener’s outfit and cap. There was a glass house nearby, and the loveliest cuts of wood in the ditch, about four feet long, all dried out.

I heard a rustling from within the bushes.

'Hello.'

'Well?'

'Alex.'

'We were staying above.'

'How's it going here?'

'We've been here for months mate. It's the best place ever.' 'She's some spot. You can hear it from here.'

'It's the business. We go out every day. It's just the biz.' 'Class.'

There was something about this buck. I had a feeling he knew what I was going to say before I even knew the formation of the words myself. The smiley head on him. Sure enough.

'Well, he might let you stay here. I could ask him if you want. Is it just yourself?' 'I'm with girlfriend and two friends.'

'Sweet.'

'We can go there now and ask him if you want?'

'This place looks magic.'

'Just wait until you see the rest of it.'

We ran along the path through the forest and soon it became a rope bridge of sorts that led into the upper reaches of the trees and after a while we were surrounded by branches woven together with rope in places, the light was bright, sunlight through spaces, hundreds of emerald shades of light and occasionally the blueness of the sky and darker blue of the ocean further out. Just unreal. Ethereal.

We went along this bridge for about three hundred yards through the trees then down into a garden with gnomes and fountains around a lawn to a cabin built within a massive ring of old growth trees. I thought I was in a Lord of the Rings film or something else.

He knocked on the door,

'Mr. Cool. There is somebody here, wants to speak with you. Jay is here.' 'Thank you Alex.'

'Hello Jay.’

'Mr. Cool.'

‘You are most welcome to our home in the rainforest.’ 3


‘Thank you. It’s good to be here.’

He brought a bowl of soup to the table.

'You'll excuse me, I'm just at lunch.'

'No bother. I got you at a bad time.'

'Not at all. You are supposed to be here.'

'So tell me about yourself?

What brings you to us?'

'Well, I'm travelling around the island with girlfriend and another couple of friends.

We're not staying at the resort anymore.'

'Ah, yes.'

'I'm from, you know,'

'Yes, I know. My mother you see.'

'Very good.'

'So, we were wondering could we stay here. We have tents and materials.'

'Excellent.'

'So Jay. Yes! You are most welcome to stay with us. We have plots we're working on. Perhaps you could clear a space.'

'Not a problem.'

He took a call on the telephone.

'Excuse me. So. Yes, we are an eco-friendly community here aiming for full self-sufficiency within a few years.'

'Amazing.'

'It really is.'

'We grow our own food. We have a whole irrigation system in place.

We harvest rain water. We use solar panels for power. I can show you around if you'd like. 'Sounds great.'

'Well. Yes! Jay. Be sure to invite your friends over.'

'Thank you Sir. We'll see you later.'

Outside in a common area, a girl was tying plaits in another girl’s hair.

There was a girl trace painting leaves on a sheet of plywood by the bench. The venation patterns. It looked pretty cool.

There were tents, huts and shacks set up about the place.

I passed a fellow sitting on the steps of a caravan playing harmonica.

A sign in the garden read,

Lettuce live in peace.

There were rows of potatoes and other vegetables growing well in the gardens.

What a bouncy feeling leaving his place. What a legend of a man. Wait until I tell the rest of the guys about this fellow. Wait until I tell them about this place.



Back at base Jen was wearing big sunglasses, speaking on her cell phone to a hotel receptionist. Marie looked flustered. She threw a T- shirt inside her ruck sack.

'Look. It is what it is.'

'I know babe. We'll find someplace else.'

Trev put his arm around her.

'It's not the end of the world. Right?'

Then twenty minutes later we're all rolling into Cools place and there was the man himself walking along the path, dragging a block with a handful of bottle caps stuck to it. A magnet block.

'Hello. You are most welcome. It is truly amazing you are here!'

'So we can stay here, right?'

'Yes.'

'How much does it cost?'

'Well. Perhaps you could help with some general labour in return.' 'Of course.'

'Wow. It is so great you are here Jen.'

'Absolutely. Good to meet you Mr. Cool. And thank you so much.'

'Wow! Marie. You're just so. Wow!'

'Trevin. Yes! You made it.'

'Thanks Mr. Cool. You've got a big place here,' looking around.

'There is a lot of work. We always need hands. Right now we are building a floating stage. There will be seating for two hundred people over there.'

'That's in the future.'

'Yes!'

'Massage Therapy!'

Next thing he's massaging Jens shoulders and then Marie afterwards and the girls seemed unfazed and delighted, which spoke to the innocent intent behind this little ritual.

Oh yeah. It was nice after that we could relax a bit at Cools place. Dig a bit of earth out for the plots. Set up our tents.

Trevin and Marie had a big purple tent they called the Palace.

We had a standard enough tent but it did the job.

Splitting wood with an axe for the fire. We didn't have far to go for it.

Walking around the pathways, the shadows gathered round.

There were old abandoned vehicles parked up in places. A school bus with rusty old doors and the wheels taken off. A bobcat and some machinery.

I passed an old recreational vehicle covered in weeds with no wheels. It must have been there since the 1980’s. A neon sign blinking in the windscreen. Open.



Voices nearby. People coming and going.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

Remember those surfing lessons in Jay Bay, South Africa from that fellow, The blondie mop,

Greased back

And a black tank top

With some words, Wu Tang.

'Turn it around man,

When you see the wave forming, When it's there,

Face the shore

Paddle hard.'

'Alright. Sound.'

'Hold the rails like this. Then jump up and

Go with the flow.'

'Ok.'

'Then listen. OK. Just Relax. Yeah man, you can totally do this. There's no competition here. Step through the water, feel the flow hard against the quads, let the toes dig into the sand, must gauge the direction of the current, walking into ocean space.’

Before he sent us out to the most shark-infested waters on the planet. We were beaten up by water.

Until you heard his words

Ringing in your ears

And you get up and ride a wave, Swimming away to catch another. Into the deepest blue,

Letting the board do the work, Ducking into the bigger waves. Pros out back,

Sitting on short boards,



Gazing over the gathering swell. Afritude.

It could take years of practice Or thirty hours.

Depends what shape you're in.

Then later, taking inspiration from Mr. Cool’s initiative we gave the girls massage around the fire. We had a few brews. Jen stood, warming her back side by the fire.

Golden-orange flames licking the wood, curling up.

Stars.

That night, the sky was thick with stars.

We watched them drop.

Then lying in the tent with her afterwards, warming her up, the depths of cold and darkness and quiet enveloped us, drifting off together, body heat in a sleeping bag, the distant rumble of the ocean carried over in waves.

Here to you Mr. Cool.

A sound fellow to meet along the way.

'What are those birds called with the blue feathers?'

'They woke me up at first light, flying through the trees about your place.' 'Those are our resident Steller’s Jay.'

Legend.

We were not the only people you helped along the way. I read the report. You made it possible for some people to live there. For decades.

Affordable living in relative harmony with nature, old school bartering system, faith in people and their skills and abilities.

You made paradise even better.

On the Pacific Rim,

Past the 49th Parallel there are many stars.

Many years later, we returned on holidays, Jen said, 'You should go surfing.

You can do it, can't you?'

Such a question.

The cold freshness of the water pervading the skin. Free floating about in the water, feet can't feel the bottom now. Turning over, swirling, twirling round, stretching limbs, so much space



further out, so much blue beyond, wonder what it's like in the deeper water, wonder what it was like for him back in 1988, starting out on his path.

The smell of salt and ocean water rushing in, each wave a different story.

This perilous, awesome beauty abounds, combinations of sounds, smells like seaweed and bull kelp nearby. So much to rediscover about the island.

The pros were busy out back, hopping about on proper waves with such skill. We watched them for hours yesterday evening, their dark shapes and silhouettes against the orange-red sun set, still at it. Swinging in a hammock with Jen. That was nice. The two of us, rolled into a hammock strung between two cedar trees. The sound of waves rushing up the beach.

A ticking clock.

We got back this summer and learned the news.

The road was dusty driving down.

A sign outside Mr. Cool’s place read,

Permanently Closed.

Multi-coloured scribbles all over it.

Here's a little scarf to wrap around yourself in heaven buddy. Big hearts travel far.


End


My best wishes to all in these Pandemic times.


Mel u







Saturday, January 9, 2021

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi - Translated from Japanese by Geoffrey Trousselot - 2020 - 227 Pages


 Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi - Translated from Japanese by Geoffrey Trousselot - 2020 - 227 Pages



The Japanese Literature Challenge 14 - Hosted by Dolce Bellezza 

January 1 to March 31. Japanese Literature Challenge 14


My prior posts for JL14 2021


  1. “Peony Lanterns” a Short Story by Aoko Matsuda - translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton -2020 - a delightful story you can read online. Linked to traditional stories of Ghosts


I love Japanese literature.  I have Dolce Bellezza to thank for expanding my Reading World.


Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi is a best seller in Japan with over a million sold.  Like “Peony Lanterns” it has supernatural elements.  (Maybe one day literary historians will determine that during the pandemic people turned to escapist other worldly fiction to withdraw into themselves.)




Before The Coffee Gets Cold was fun to read, taking up a pleasant evening with a Reading time of under four hours.  The plot action takes place in a famous coffee shop in contemporary  Tokyo.  Urban legend has it that this café is a portal from which one can time travel, as long as you follow the rules.  


You can only time travel from one particular chair in the cafe, nothing you might do on your travels will change the future, you may only encounter someone who has also visited the café and you must be back before your coffee gets cold otherwise you will turn into a ghost.


There are four chapters each showing us experiences of time travelors.

The characters are very well developed as is feeling for the shop. 


In the first episode a woman wants to find out why a man she loved abandoned her to take a job in America.  In second section a woman wants to receive a never mailed letter from her husband who has lost his memory to Alzheimer's.  In third a woman  wants to meet her sister, killed in an auto accident hoping to resolve bitterness between them over responsibilities to their parents.  As the father of three daughters I have wished sometimes I could travel in to a future when I am gone to see How our girls are doing.  In the final most moving episode to me, a woman is pregnant.  Her doctor has told her if she gives birth probably child, a girl, Will survive but she might not.  She asks to meet her daughter as a Young woman.  She knows she well may never see her.


There are fun asides about a ghost who sits in the special chair most of the time, descriptions of attire and café food that add a lot to the pleasure of Before The Coffee Gets Cold.






TOSHIKAZU KAWAGUCHI was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1971. He has produced, directed and written for the theatrical group Sonic Snail. As a playwright, his works include COUPLE, Sunset Song and family time. His play Before the Coffee Gets Cold won the grand prize at the Suginami Drama Festival. This is his debut as an author. Before the Coffee Gets Cold has become an international bestseller and has been adapted for the screen in Japan.














Friday, January 8, 2021

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia - 2020


 Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia -2020


A New York Times Best Seller


Mexican Gothic has been described as a south of the border mixture of Emily Bronte and the American Master of horror H. P. Lovecraft.  The plot starts when Naomi, living in Mexico City, receives a letter from a cousin saying she needs her help, that she is being kept captive in a house permeated with sinister forces while her husband tries to murder her..  Naomi’s parents do not want her go.


Naomi finds a strange mixture of people at the house, a grand old seen better days mansion.  The people there include her cousin’s husband and his ancient father and three servants, No talking is allowed during meals.


We gradually learn the history of the family which includes owning a silver mine and a mass murdering now deceased wife.  Naomi begins to be aware of a strange mold.  All very Levrockian.  


I found this work entertaining.  I purchased the Kindle edition of this book for $2.95 during a flash sale.  It is back up to $12.95.  I cannot generally endorse the purchase of Mexican Gothic at the price of $12.95 but if you like Gothic literature and if you can acquire for $2.95 you might not be disappointed.


SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA is the author of the critically acclaimed speculative novels Gods of Jade and Shadow, Signal to Noise, Certain Dark Things, and The Beautiful Ones; and the crime novel Untamed Shore.  She has edited several anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award–winning She Walks in Shadows (aka Cthulhu’s Daughters). She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Peony Lanterns - A Short Story by Aoko Kanakami - translated from The Japanese by Polly Barton - 2020




“Peony Lanterns” a Short Story by Aoko Matsuda - translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton -2020 - My Plans for The Japanese Literature 14 Challenge 


Electric Litarature has placed this story online, accompanied by an introduction by Carmen Maria Machado


The Japanese Literature Challenge 14 - Hosted by Dolce Bellezza 

January 1 to March 31. Japanese Literature Challenge 14





In these pandemic times we may not be able to visit Japan in person  but through JL14 you can make many virtual trips.



This will be the 12th time I have participated in The Japanese Literature Challenge.  I first joined in July 2009, just as I started The Reading Life. From this start, never having read any Japanese literature, I

went  read hundreds of works, adding numerous writers to my “read all I can” list.  I came to see that the post World War Two Japanese novel is a World Class Cultural treasure of a very high order.  


My plans so far for JL14 includes these novels


  1. Before The Coffee Gets Cold by TOSHIKAZU KAWAGUCHI
  2. A Single Swallow by Zhang Lin
  3. Life for Sale by Yukio Mishima
  4. Star by Yukio Mishima
  5. The Frolic of The Beasts by Yukio Mishima (all these of The Mishima works are newly translated)


I also have added to my wish list three novels by Osamu Dazai as well as Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami.  There are also a lot of stories i have not yet read in The Penquin Book of Japanese Short Stories.


Today I am starting my participation in JL14 with a really fun story by s writer new to me Aoko Matsuda, “Peony Lanterns”.  In her introduction Carmen Maria Macado says it is a modern retelling of a classic Japanese Ghost Story in which a man is visited every night by what he thinks is a beautiful woman.  In fact she is a ghost embodied as a decayed corpse.


The central character has recently lost his sales job in a corporate reshuffle.  His spirit is low as he sits home supported by his wife.  Of course he finds this humiliating.  One day two women knock on his door, they are selling peony lanterns.  Against his better judgement he lets them come inside.  One is in her fifties, fhe other mid thirties.  Both are well dressed and attractive.  I do not want to give away the very intriquing  plot of this story but the longer the women stay, the stranger they seem.  The ending was a lot of fun.


About the Author - from Electric Literature 


Aoko Matsuda is a writer and translator. In 2013, her debut book, Stackable, was nominated for the Yukio Mishima Prize and the Noma Literary New Face Prize. Her novella, The Girl Who Is Getting Married, was published by Strangers Press in the U.K. in 2016. In 2019, her short story “The Woman Dies” was short-listed for a Shirley Jackson Award. She has translated work by Karen Russell, Amelia Gray, and Carmen Maria Machado into Japanese.


Mel u