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Tanizaki combines understated realism with fabulism, sensuality, a fascination with the exotic (which, in a reversal of...

Four newly translated stories, written between 1917 and 1926, by one of the masters of 20th-century Japanese literature (The Makioka Sisters, 1957, etc.).

The first and longest of the stories, “The Strange Case of Tomoda and Matsunaga,” mirrors in many ways Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In 1920, the narrator, novelist F.K., receives a letter from a stranger who has found a letter from F.K. to his drinking buddy Tomoda in a satchel belonging to her husband, Gisuke. Since early in their marriage, Gisuke has divided his time in intervals: three years of quiet life at home, three years away and incommunicado. While Tomoda and Gisuke share no characteristics—Tomoda a portly sensualist of large and exotic appetites, Gisuke a thin, sickly traditionalist—the narrator is soon caught up in unraveling the question Gisuke’s wife raises: are Gisuke and Tomoda, who dominates the tale, the same man? After a dinner out while visiting China, the narrator of the brief, seemingly straightforward “A Night In Qinhuai” goes on a search of brothels, each more “gloomy” than the last. With the narrator torn between his distaste for the surroundings and his desire for the beautiful young prostitutes they house, Tanizaki creates an atmosphere both tawdry and ripe with desire. The narrator of “The Magician” finds the park he visits one summer evening “a bizarre blend of beauty and ugliness,” a description of the worlds Tanizaki creates as well. The narrator’s lover wants to test the power of their love against the power of the park magician who performs an act he calls The Art of Human Metamorphosis. Think Kafka despite the narrator’s references to Poe. The final story, “Red Roofs,” has a more contemporary feel, told from the perspective of a film actress juggling her multiple, sometimes perverse, sometimes oddly romantic relationships with men.

Tanizaki combines understated realism with fabulism, sensuality, a fascination with the exotic (which, in a reversal of American and European literary clichés, here means things Western), and ambivalence toward traditional Japan.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-472-07327-6

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Univ. of Michigan

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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