First English translation of a pair of novellas by a masterful Japanese author.
Mizukami (1919–2004) writes in a spare style, so the novellas’ emotions are just-beneath-the-surface-subtle. They do not share characters, but they’re thematically related. Both focus on outsiders whose alienation is symbolized by their strange, nearly grotesque physical appearance. In The Temple of the Wild Geese, a Zen priest named Jikai enters a relationship with Satoko after her lover dies. Jikai, a man of prodigious sexuality, is also the mentor of Jinen, an apprentice priest at the temple and covert admirer of Satoko. Jinen is malformed, with a thin body and huge head, and Satoko finds herself in equal measure attracted and repelled by him. One night they become lovers, and Jinen’s seething resentment about the way the older priest treats Satoko leads to a murderous explosion. Bamboo Dolls of Echizen is the tender tale of Kisuke, an expert craftsman who discovers that his recently deceased father had a secret life involving Tamae, a prostitute. Diminutive Kisuke, only four feet tall, gradually feels love for Tamae and persuades her to marry him, but with one striking proviso: that they not engage in sex. He sees her much more as a mother figure than as a lover. As Kisuke develops his skill in carving bamboo dolls, his fame spreads far beyond the small village of Echizen, eventually drawing the attention of the head clerk of a doll shop in Kyoto, Chubei, who was involved with Tamae when she was a prostitute. Just as Tamae begins to accommodate herself to her semi-wifely, semi-motherly role with Kisuke, the unthinkable, but perhaps inevitable, happens. She has a night of passion with Chubei, finds herself pregnant and, feeling guilty, tries to keep this knowledge from her husband. The story then takes a dramatic (verging on melodramatic) turn with the tragic resolution of Tamae’s pregnancy.
Two starkly beautiful narratives, spare and strange.