Today is the first day of the seventh month of the year. We’re literally halfway through the year! Before I can move on to July (my birth month), I am listing the books that I managed to purchase in June. As there were quite a lot (some were late deliveries from previous months), I am cutting it into three parts, starting with works of Japanese literature. It is fitting start because I am going to immerse in Japanese literature this July. Without more ado, here is the first part of my June 2021 book haul. Happy reading!

Title: Quicksand
Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Translator: Howard Hibbett
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publishing Date: 1993
No. of Pages: 224

Synopsis: “The voice is insistent, attractive, persuasive – the voice of a cultured Osaka lady, unfortunately, widowed young. Sonoko Kakiuchi’s storym, however, is unsettlingly at odds with her image. It is a tale of infatuation and deceit, of deliberate evil. Its theme is humiliation, its victim Sonoko’s mild-mannered husband. And at its center – seducing, manipulating, enslaving – is one of the most extraordinary characters ever created by the great Japanese novelist Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, the beautiful and totally corrupt art student Mitsuko.

Partly a black comedy – the plot sometimes resembles bedroom farce – partly an exploration of sexual obsession and pain, Quicksand is the last major Tanizaki novel to be translated, largely because of the extreme difficulty in capturing the narrator’s precise tone in English. In this Howard Hibbett has succeeded brilliantly. As a masterwork on the level of Some Prefer Nettles and Diary of a Mad Old Man, and as a triumph of the translator’s art, Quicksand is both important and totally engrossing.”

Title: The Key
Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Translator: Howard Hibbett
Publisher: Perigree
Publishing Date: January 1981
No. of Pages: 183

Synopsis: “The Key is a novel told in the form of parallel diaries kept by a husband and wife which describe the last four months of their marriage. The husband (a professor in his fifties) frenziedly drives himself to even more intense sexual pleasures with the wife with whom he has lived for almost thirty years. He resorts to various stimulants: brandy and a handsome young man for her. In the day they record the previous night’s experiences. Each suspects that the other is secretly reading their respective diaries, and wonders at the same time if the other does not actually intend that his daily confession be read. It is a masterful example of a theme which dominates all of Tanizaki’s writing: the relationship of sexual desire to the will to live.”

Title: Nip The Buds, Shoot the Kids
Author: Kenzaburō Ōe
Translator: Paul St. John Mackintosh and Maki Sugiyama
Publisher: Marion Boyars Publishers
Publishing Date: 1995
No. of Pages: 189

Synopsis: “The first novel by Japan’s most celebrated living writer, Nip The Buds, Shoot the Kids recounts the exploits of fifteen teenage reformatory boys evacuated to a remote mountain village in wartime. The narrator who acts as nominal leader of the small band, his younger brother and their comrades are all delinquent outcasts, feared and detested by the local peasants. When plague breaks out, their hosts abandon them and flee, then blockade them inside the empty village, together with a young Korean, an army deserter and a girl evacuee. However, the boys’ brief, doomed attempt to build autonomous lives of self-respect, love and tribal valour inevitably fails with the reflux of death and the adult nightmare of war.

Nip The Buds, Shoot the Kids encapsulates all the qualities that distinguish Ōe’s writing: his radical anger; his evocation of myth and archetype and his extraordinary poetic style. Distilling a vast range of influences, from Twain and Golding to Mailer and Camus, it burns with the agony of the existential hero in a time and place where any deviancy meets with savage retribution.

Indisputably the greatest post-war Japanese novelist, Kenzaburō Ōe has won every national literary prize, many international awards, including the 1989 Prix Europalia, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994. He is also revered as the conscience of Japan’s modern left. His translated works include Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, A Personal Matter and The Silent Cry.

Title: Kangaroo Notebook
Author: Kōbō Abe
Translator: Maryellen Toman Mori
Publisher: Vintage International
Publishing Date: May 1997
No. of Pages: 183

Synopsis: “In the last novel written before his death in 1993, one of Japan’s most distinguished novelists proffered a surreal vision of Japanese society that manages to be simultaneously fearful and jarringly funny.

The narrator of Kangaroo Notebook wakes one morning to discover that his legs are growing radish sprouts, an ailment that repulses his doctor but provides the patient with the unusual ability to snack on himself. In short order, Kobo Abe’s unraveling protagonist finds himself hurtling in a hospital bed to the very shores of hell. He encounters an officious child demon, a hairy American martial arts expert, and a sexy nurse who is trying to collect enough blood to win the “Dracula’s Daughter” medal. Only Abe could have assembled these oddities into a coherent novel, one imbued with unexpected meaning.”

Title: The House of Nire
Author: Morio Kita
Translator: Dennis Keene
Publisher: Kodansha International
Publishing Date: 1990
No. of Pages: 765

Synopsis: “The House of Nire will come as a surprise to readers who expect a Japanese novel to be a mixture of gloom and sensitivity. This one is unashamedly comic, and its view of human life derives from a warm curiosity that accepts the world as it is and wastes no time complaining about it. The book relates the history of the Nire family from the end of the First World War to the end of the Second. We meet Kiichiro Nire, founder not only of the family mental hospital but of the family itself, for he has changed their real name to something more sophisticated. Kiichiro, in all his vanity, selfishness, and absurdity, is one of the great comic creations of Japanese literature. His children, adopted children, grandchildren, and any number of hangers-on including a friendly but flabby Sumo wrestler whose career is going nowhere, form a cast of characters who, for all their oddities, tell us more about actual Japanese people and their lives than almost anything we have yet seen in English. And when, with the eventual fall of the House of Nire, the mood changes and the laughter dies away, one recognizes just how true to life this novel is and how involved in it one has become. (Source: Goodreads)

Title: The Kobe Hotel
Author: Saito Sanki
Translator: Saito Masaya
Publisher: Weatherhill
Publishing Date: 1993
No. of Pages: 196

Synopsis: “One of the leading haiku poets of the twentieth century, Saito Sanki was also a writer of offbeat short stories populated by quirky characters, all drawn from personal experience. The Kobe Hotel features selections from both genres, published in English for the first time. The stories are based on the author’s life during World War II, when he lived in a run-down hotel in the port city of Kobe. The atmosphere of wartime Japan in a cosmopolitan city frequented by the German navy is recreated in the adventures of a colorful group of Japanese misfits and expatriates stranded in the hotel for the war’s duration. The final stories are set in the immediate post-war days and include a visit to Hiroshima, devastated by the atomic bomb, and a lurid description of a brothel built for occupation soldiers.”

Title: A Dark Night’s Passing
Author: Naoya Shiga
Translator: Edwin McClellan
Publisher: Kodansha International
Publishing Date: 1981
No. of Pages: 408

Synopsis: “Tells the story of a young man’s passage through a sequence of disturbing experiences to a hard-worn truce with the destructive forces within himself (Source: Goodreads)