The first of the GLLI book recommendations comes from Japan via Kurodahan Press.
MIYAMOTO Teru has established a considerable and devoted following in Japan, and is rapidly building a devoted readership in other Asian countries and parts of Europe as his fiction is translated into various languages. With only a few of his works currently available in English, however, Anglophone readers have for the most part been unaware of the “Teru” literary phenomenon. This book brings together his most famous work, the superlative Rivers Sequence: “Muddy River,” which was published in 1977 and won the 78th Akutagawa Prize; “River of Fireflies,” published the following year and promptly winning the 13th Dazai Osamu Prize; and “River of Lights,” also published in 1978 but later extensively rewritten and expanded into a novel. All three works have been released as major films in Japan.
Rivers explores the perennial themes of Miyamoto’s fiction, drawing extensively on his own childhood in working-class Osaka neighborhoods to recreate a vivid and powerful world with consummate skill. While he frequently deals with perennial themes of life, death, and loss, his writing is touched with a pathos and humor to bring out the essential humanity of each character. Like the depressed areas described in much of his fiction, his characters too are often “left behind” by post-war Japan’s rapid economic growth, by unexpected changes in their lives, or by the deaths of loved ones. His heroes are ordinary people who, as he puts it, “are trying to lift themselves up, who are struggling to live,” and who achieve quiet triumphs.
MIYAMOTO Teru (宮本 輝)
Born in Kobe, Japan in 1947, Miyamoto Teru graduated from Otemon Gakuin University. He is a one of Japan’s most popular writers, and becoming a globally acclaimed author with translations into multiple languages. His Kinshu: Autumn Brocade was published in English translation in 2005.
Miyamoto’s work reveals his consummate skill in creating such narratives with his sketches drawn from the working-class world of the Osaka-Kobe region in which he grew up, creating tales interspersed with vignettes informed by his own life experiences. He has earned a devoted following among the Japanese readership, and numerous awards including the Akutagawa Prize for River of Fireflies (蛍川).
Roger K. Thomas is a professor at Illinois State University where he teaches courses in East Asian languages and cultures and directs the program in East Asian Studies. His primary area of research is early modern poetics and kokugaku. He also has an active interest in modern fiction, his published translations including Miyamoto’s Kinshu: Autumn Brocade.
Ralph McCarthy lives in Southern California. He has translated two previous collections of Dazai stories, Self Portraits and Otogizōshi, as well as a number of novels by Ryu Murakami, including In the Miso Soup and Popular Hits of the Showa Era. His most recent translation is Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama.
“…the three books form a deliberate trilogy, one in which the writer explores his own youth vicariously. While the main characters are different, each time we move on seven years, as do the boys. Each of them is forced to contemplate mortality… […] Here’s hoping that more western readers will put the Murakamis aside for a little while and give Miyamoto a try – I can assure you that you won’t regret it.
—Tony Malone, Tony’s Reading List
The three episodes channel Japan’s rich history of Proletarian literature, with their nuanced, sympathetic depictions of working-class life—echoing Miyamoto’s own upbringing.
—Mike Sunda, The Japan Times
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