cover image On Familiar Terms: A Journey Across Cultures

On Familiar Terms: A Journey Across Cultures

Donald Keene, Author, John Urda, Editor Kodansha America $23 (292p) ISBN 978-1-56836-006-5

One expects Keene's autobiography to be high adventure, and parts of it are. An acclaimed translator of Japanese literature, critic and professor emeritus at Columbia University, Keene grew up indigent in Depression-era New York City, discovered Asian culture as a student at Columbia and served in naval intelligence in WW II, interrogating prisoners in Hawaii and investigating war crimes in Beijing. On a postwar fellowship to Cambridge, he was befriended by Bertrand Russell and met E. M. Forster. With verve and style he recounts his long friendship with Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima; records meetings with other Japanese writers such as Kobo Abe and Junichiro Tanizaki; offers firsthand impressions of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac; reminisces on all-but-vanished traditional Japan; and logs travel notes from Cambodia to Burma. But one longs for more insights into Japanese culture and more details of Keene's personal life. Photos. (Feb.)