Tales of Tears and Laughter: Short Fiction of Medieval Japan

Virginia S. Skord, Other University of Hawaii Press $0 (222p) ISBN 978-0-8248-1315-4
As Skord explains in her helpful introduction, the term otogi-zoshi (literally, ``companion booklets'' or ``companion stories'') encompasses a body of about 400 short and thematically varied Japanese narratives from the late 1300s to the early 1800s, and Skord has chosen 13 examples here. Although who authored and who read these works remain unknown, it is Skord's convincing argument that the tales ``represent a cross section of medieval Japan in all its richness and complexity . . . teeming with all the possibilities and contradictions of the age.'' Aided by endnotes, the reader can glimpse a realm in which indiscretion is a worse sin than adultery, in which appreciation of poetry defines a person's character. The tales are, as the title suggests, alternately comical and serious, scatological and openly didactic; all possess clear charm and a certain immediacy. At the same time they are slightly impenetrable for Westerners, often concluding with abrupt homilies or other shifts in tone, but this distancing effect proves alluring rather than alienating. Skord, a professor of Asian studies at Manhattanville College, has adapted this elusive form with energy and imagination. Illustrations. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1991
Release date: 01/01/1991
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-8248-1569-1
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