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

Friday, June 3, 2011

"Sansho the Steward" by Mori Ogai- My Plans for The Japanese Literature 5 Reading Challenge

"Sansho the Steward" by Mori Ogai (1915, 28 pages, trans. by J. Thomas Rimer)

An Interesting Story about Slavery in Japan
My Plans for The JL5 Reading Challenge

This is my 3rd year in the Japanese Literature 5 challenge.    To participate you only have to read one book.    The challenge host, Dolce Bellezza, always does a great job supporting the challenge and provides us with lots of reading suggestions. Last year I participated in 50 reading challenges.   There are a lot of great challenge hosts but none better than Dolce.    

This year I hope to read The Lake and Asleep by Banana Yoshimto, two early novels by Kenzaburo Oe,  and the IQ84 by Hurakami Murakami when it is published in English in late October.   I think there is a good chance Dolce and I will be co-hosting a read along of IQ84 (it will be close to 1000 pages) and will announce details on this as we develop our plans.

This challenge year I will be focusing on Japanese short stories.    In a forthcoming soon post I will provide some links where you can read Japanese short stories online for free by classical as well as 21th century writers.   There are not a lot of  Japanese Short Stories online because most of the translations are fairly recent.    (All of the links I will provide are to legally online works.)

"Sansho the Steward" by Mori Ogai-1862 to 1922- (sometimes he is called "Ogai Mori") gives us a startling look at the 19th century practice of slaving in Japan.    Slavers operated in rural Japan, capturing who they could, mainly travelers, and selling them into slavery.   (I have provided some background information on the author in my post on his 1909 novel,  Vita Sexualis which is a shocking near autobiographical look at his sexual history which was got him censored by his superiors in the Japanese Army Medical Corps-he was a doctor.)

As the story open a mother,30,  her son  12 or so and daughter 14 along with a long time family helper, 40, are embarking on a trip to see the husband.   He left their area some two years ago to seek employment.   They know where he said he was going.   This is what would be called the opening exposition of the story.   This is followed by some drama when a seemingly ever so kind and helpful stranger warns them to be aware of slavers operating in the area and offers to shelter them for the night and help them on their way for the next day.   This is all done very well.   I was very much in sympathy with the small family and worried about them and I was wondering about the kind stranger.    Then there is a big development, the kind stranger turns out to be a part of the slaving operation and the two children are sent to be sold as slaves and we do not at this point know what has happened to the mother.    Ogai does a great job of building up suspense and made me feel just what a lawless place Japan once was.    I was horrified when I thought the two children were going to be branded on their foreheads as runaways.   Ogai really bring everyone to life and makes us see how slave labor was part of the economy.

Up until this point this is just a perfect wonderfully done story.   Then the author kind of gives in to the need to have it end happy in a sort of predictable not really exciting way.   It is not easy to bring a short story to a strong conclusion.   R. K. Narayan is a master of this.

"Sansho the Steward" is very much worth reading.   It is an excellent short story that brings an alien world to life for us.   It falls short of greatest because of the week ending.  

This work is the lead story in The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, edited and introduced by Theodore W. Goossen. I will talk more about this wonderful anthology in future posts.

Mel u


Suko said...

You have ambitious plans for the JLC-5. That doesn't surprise me! I need to put the JLC button on my blog soon.

Natalie W said...

I love the sounds of those books! I will have to participate in this challenge, love Japanese novels. Won The Lake and looking forward to reading it.
Love your blog too!
Natalie :0)

@parridhlantern said...

Not made a definitive list, but have a few idea on my challenge page to which I can add to.

Unknown said...

The Oxford collection is a wonderful one. I read it last year, around the end of BBW in September, and it was great to get to read so many new Japanese authors :)

Rise said...

I own this Oxford anthology! It's waiting for that perfect day.

Ogai's The Wild Geese is one of my favorites of last year. It had an unusual ending that I like. I plan to reread it in a second translation (The Wild Goose).

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I began to collect Japanese lit books last year and have read several and a few remain unread. I do like Harukami. Have fun with this challenge.

Mel u said...

Suko-I am glad we are both in this challenge again this year

Rise-I will check out The Wild Geese-thanks for the suggestion

Diane-will look forward to your postings this year

Natalie W-I will look forward to you take on The Lake-thanks for stopping by my blog

parrish lantern-I am very glad we are joined int this challenge together

Tony-thanks for the visit-I really like the Oxford Anthology of Japanese Short stories-lots of new to me authors in there

mee said...

I just read your post on Vita Sexualis (which I somehow missed a while ago), and it sounds very interesting. I read a bit about it too in the introduction of my Mori Ogai book. You're doing very well in digging more into the more obscure Japanese authors!

@parridhlantern said...

Also waiting impatiently for IQ84