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SHIPWRECKS by Akira Yoshimura

SHIPWRECKS

By Akira Yoshimura

Pub Date: June 7th, 1996
ISBN: 0-15-100194-4
Publisher: Harcourt

 The first English translation of a veteran Japanese writer who is president of his country's writers' union and the author of 20 novels. This 1982 work, set in a coastal village in medieval Japan, recounts the hurried journey toward manhood taken by its protagonist, nine-year-old Isaku. In their impoverished village close by the sea, Isaku's family and neighbors carry on a long- accepted tradition: They distill salt from sea water to sell to other villages--and they live in the hope that the flames beneath the boiling cauldrons placed near the shore will lure passing ships onto the nearby rocks, thereafter to be looted and plundered. ``O- fune-sama'' (their term for this illicit bounty) occurs only infrequently until one winter when, after an unexpectedly short interval, a mysterious ship is found drifting near shore, all of its dead passengers dressed in red clothing and disfigured by red spots on their bodies. The villagers strip them of their garments and possessions--and retribution proves as swift as it is terrible. This disturbing fable resonates with mystery, its events seen through the puzzled eyes of young Isaku, who is just beginning to intuit the imperatives of sexuality and to shoulder his burden as the man of his family, since his father, who has sold himself into indentured servitude in a distant village, is usually absent. The novel's structure works beautifully: Its first two thirds, virtually plotless, offer a vivid portrait of Isaku's fascination with local folkways and superstitions; thereafter, things happen with momentous inevitability, climaxing when those who have been punished most grievously for the community's sins must suffer the additional ordeal of banishment. Isaku's father returns home to a family changed beyond anything he can imagine. A seamless interweaving of description, characterization, and narrative, and an enduringly powerful image of a vanished time and place. More, please, of Yoshimura.