Another installment of the Japanese Literature Series by Dalkey Archive Press, these two Tsutomu Mizukami Novellas allow an English-speaking readership its first look at The Temple of the Wild Geese and The Bamboo Dolls of Echizen.
The Temple of the Wild Geese tells the story of a temple at the base of Mt. Kinugasa. The mistress of a famous artist is coerced into moving in with the infatuated priest after her lover dies. Life is relatively comfortable and simple. Satoko falls into a monotonous daily routine; but she’s constantly finding herself unnerved by the eerie apprentice of the priest. An unusually small and haunted boy of 13, he was once abandoned by his mother and taken in by the temple to aid the priest. Jinen is a dutiful and hard worker – but Satoko senses something about him. He’s too quiet, too composed. This first story is every bit a mystery, and as the mystery lover that I am, I enjoyed attempting to unravel this Japanese tale.
The second story, The Bamboo Dolls of Echizen, becomes a mystery only from the angle of deciphering if and how it ties in with the first story. Both stories are set in 1930’s Japan, and both contain a similar main character who is shunned by society. But the premises of these two stories are very different – at first glance. Echizen is a small village known for its bamboo artisans. A small and lonely man lives there, his bamboo skills beyond anyone else. What follows evolves into a strange, sad love story. Or is it? He is unwanted by anyone until one woman comes into his life as a most unexpected partner.
I wanted to go into more detail about the second story, but something began to happen as I wrote – I knew the two stories contained many parallels, but I began finding so many that I’m certain sharing the connections would give the fun away of reading the book. The biggest mystery of these stories, it appears, is how they’re intertwined. Are they truly connected? If so, how? Readers will enjoy some wonderful aspects of these novellas – the settings, the unusual characters, the mysterious aura.
Mizukami (1919 – 2004) was a wonderful storyteller with a gift of adding an element of the unexpected. He has received many awards for his writing, including the Naoki Prize for The Temple of the Wild Geese, one of his most popular stories. It is said these two stories in particular are semi-autobiographical. Given the nature of the characters and the plots, it makes one want to find out more about this popular and beloved Japanese writer.
For more on Japanese literature, check out The Japanese Literature Home Page.