Embracing Family

Nobuo Kojima, Author, Yukiko Tanaka, Translator
Nobuo Kojima, Author, Yukiko Tanaka, Translator , trans. from the Japanese by Yukiko Tanaka. Dalkey Archive $21.95 (161p) ISBN 978-1-56478-405-6
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Set during the post-WWII American occupation of Japan, this sometimes disjointed novel (the first English-language publication of Kojima's 1965 Japanese debut) centers on middle-aged professor Shunsuke Miwa trying—and mostly failing—to understand the family from whom he has always been distant. Although he himself has philandered, Shunsuke, an expert on Western culture, is thrown into a crisis when his wife, Tokiko, asserts her independence by having an affair with an American GI. Shunsuke's attempts to impose authority leave him figuratively and literally impotent, and he overcompensates by building a preposterous Western-style house. When Tokiko develops breast cancer, Shunsuke endeavors to restore domesticity and cluelessly tries to connect with his son and daughter. Although outsiders eventually judge Shunsuke as "overly preoccupied" with his family, he continues to struggle inwardly with the conflicts between Western modernity and traditional Japanese patriarchy, between American action and his own passivity. Shunsuke's efforts to make peace during his wife's illness are somewhat endearing, but his inability to really see her (and other women) as autonomous people may leave American readers with little sympathy for this traditional patriarch. Kojima's controlled prose, as well as Shunsuke's cool response to emotional events, lend the novel a spareness bordering on sterility. (Jan.)

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