This newly translated volume includes the novella of the title plus two midlength stories by Inoue (The Hunting Gun, 2014, etc.), a major Japanese author less known in the U.S.
In 1942, the novella's narrator, a journalist, was hired by the family of recently deceased artist Onuki Keigaku to write his biography, but the war intervened, and 10 years later, the book remains unfinished. As the narrator begins to refocus on his work, the true subject becomes not the famous painter but his former friend Shinozaki, who made his living counterfeiting Keigaku’s work under the name Hara Hosen. After reading Shinozaki’s name in the famous artist’s diary, he remembers his own random encounters with the forger’s work and stories he has heard from Keigaku’s son and others about Hosen/Shinozaki, who spent his last years making artistic fireworks he was too busy to enjoy. The narrator finds himself struck by the coincidental intersections between his and Hosen/Shinozaki’s lives and ultimately finds the counterfeiter’s failed life represents “the peculiar sadness of our karma.” In “Reeds,” the same narrator re-examines fragmentary childhood memories, each fraught with undefined emotion. His most developed memory concerns riding in a boat with a young couple who were making love. Even after learning the woman’s possible identity, the narrator is not sure what really happened, although “as times goes by, this supposition is slowly being transformed in my heart into a matter of unquestionable fact.” The unreliability of memory and perception also lies at the heart of “Mr. Goodall’s Gloves,” which takes place in postwar Nagasaki and revolves around a character introduced in “Reeds”: Grandma Kano, who raised the narrator through elementary school and was actually not his relative but his great-grandfather’s mistress. The narrator’s ruminations on his life and relationships add up to a new appreciation of memory, however flawed, as “sacred.”
Inoue writes with remarkable clarity and disarming simplicity about feelings and concepts usually too intricate and ambiguous to pin down.