cover image Once and Forever

Once and Forever

Kenji Miyazawa, trans. from the Japanese by John Best. New York Review Books, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-68137-260-0

In the transcendent stories of Miyazawa (1896–1933), Earth teems with magic and wonder. Hunters can overhear bears conversing, earthgods weep with loneliness, and animals must attend “Badger School.” While ostensibly for children, these stories are suffused with a sublime melancholy that will appeal to all ages. “The Nighthawk Star” recounts how the physically ugly nighthawk, bullied by the other birds, flies high into the night sky until he becomes the nighthawk star, “still burning to this day.” In “The Restaurant of Many Orders,” two young hunters deep in the forest stumble upon The Restaurant Wildcat, which is far too inviting, showcasing Miyazawa’s sly humor. Some tales, such as “A Stem of Lilies,” in which a King dispatches his chancellor to find a stem of lilies for the king to present to Buddha as an offering, seem little more than enigmatic sketches. While most of the stories possess a timeless folktale quality, details such as General Electricity and his marching telegraph poles, or soldiers trying to blow out electric lights, situate the work in a rapidly changing Japan. While Miyazawa does not eschew the tropes of folktales—his forests teem with talking animals, magic stones, and moral lessons—this collection proves his poetic voice and craft transcend the genre. (Oct.)