The first English translation of three novellas from an author of Japan's Taisho period (1912-26)—a period in which writers began to define, with acknowledgments to Western literature, ``a contemporary Japanese sense of self.'' All three stories, which together form a loose continuum, are as much luminous evocations of the landscape of the soul as of the countryside and city. Their common narrator—``a fretful loner who stared into every nook and corner of his own feelings, and yet the will to do something stirred him not''—is a young man of vaguely artistic aspirations and equally unformed talents. Well-read, he is quick to see allusions but slow to act—for him, human life is no more ``than the accumulation of trivia.'' In the title piece, the young man and his actress wife buy a house in an isolated village. The couple soon settle in; and the narrator for a while is busy tending the garden, but his energy is dissipated by the onset of the autumn rains, as well as by melancholy thoughts and visions. And in spring, when the roses appear infested with insects, the narrator—haunted by William Blake's line ``Oh, Rose, thou art sick!''—flees the country. Okina and Her Brother is a brisk retelling of the life story of a woman met in the country; and in Gloom in the City, sequel to the first novella, the couple now live in the city in a small sunless room. While his wife resumes her acting career, the narrator spends time with a failed writer friend: ``For us both, it's not that we can't write the story. It's like being the person written about in a story, isn't it?'' Intense and lyrical meditations on life, art, and the individual enhanced by a disarming wryness, honesty, and luminous prose.
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