CRANES AT DUSK by Hisako Matsubara


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Growing up in post-Hiroshima Japan as the daughter of a wise, open-minded, oddly progressive Shinto priest: an autobiographical novel from the author of the bleak, rather didactic Samurai (1980). In Kyoto, relatively undamaged by US bombing, Japan's 1945 surrender comes as a particular shock and surprise--even though the Guji, clairvoyant high priest of the great Shinto shrine, foretold the defeat years ago. And, as the strange adjustments of postwar, US-Occupation life bring bitter confusion to the weaver-community near the Shrine, the Guji's ten-year-old daughter Saya finds herself increasingly torn--between' parents, cultures, religions. At home, Saya's mother, a traditionalist devoted to flower-arranging and tea-ceremonies, snipes viciously at her gentle, impassive husband, who believes in ""the dignity of the individual"" rather than the nobility of ceremonial show; with ugly lies she possessively tries to turn Says against the Guji (who refuses to engage in such domestic warfare). Meanwhile, at school, Saya nervily stands up to her hypocritical teacher Mrs. Nakarai--who preaches blind Emperor-worship (and anti-Korean bigotry), then mindlessly switches to the new postwar rule-book. (""Her catchwords were no longer Tenno, nation, divine Japan, but freedom, will and self-expression. However, as soon as a spark of independence showed up anywhere in class, she intervened immediately."") Furthermore, while attracting some adult disapproval with her small rebellions against Japanese cultural sexism, Saya causes the biggest commotion when she becomes curious about Christianity: she attends services at a Kyoto church, entranced by the Americans she sees there; she tries to absorb and reconcile all those new ideas--about Americans, Nazis, Jews, Christians. (""Maybe the pastor was right after all when he said that the Americans were better human beings than the Japanese? Because they know Jesus."") But finally, after the death of her beloved little brother Bo, Saya is drawn more than ever to the calm ecumenicism of her mystical, rational father--who is reprimanded by the Shinto establishment because of his daughter's scandalous church-going. With village vignettes and warm humor (e.g., reactions to US chewing-gum) helping to soften the slightly stiff theological/cultural issues: an intriguing, modestly involving portrait of a complicated place-and-time, an unusual family situation.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1984
Publisher: Doubleday