A best-seller in Japan, Mizumura’s essay is likely to find only a narrow audience here, but that does not diminish its...

Are these the last days of writers writing in Finnish, Catalan, Japanese and other languages? This slender book finds reason to worry that with English as the “universal language,” national literatures will disappear.

Some may find it puzzlingly meta to translate into English a book that complains, to a Japanese audience, that English is swamping the world. The idea of the hegemony of English is not new, of course; George Steiner was writing about it half a century ago. The idea that monoculturalism is undesirable is similarly old. What is new is novelist Mizumura’s (A True Novel, 2013, etc.) insistence that at least some of the blame lies with the Japanese government’s willingness to roll over, in the case of the Japanese language, before the invader. Defending a national language, after all, is the business of the nation, and in a nation whose educational system is centralized, she finds “astonishing…the meager content of junior and senior high school textbooks for courses in Japanese language arts.” A move toward increased substance, she adds, is essential, as is a commitment to the establishment and presentation of a “modern literary canon.” It is perhaps uncharitable to wonder whether there is a self-serving element in that call, but one understands Mizumura’s frustration that a great artist such as Soseki Natsume should be represented by only six lines from a single novel. Readers of this book would be well-served by some background in the Meiji Restoration and its politics, but Mizumura’s unhappiness with things as they are and her unwilling status as intermediary needs no cultural glossing. She wonders whether she is invited to important cultural conferences abroad only because she speaks English, not because of her status as a writer of Japanese literature.

A best-seller in Japan, Mizumura’s essay is likely to find only a narrow audience here, but that does not diminish its urgency in the least.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0231163026

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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