The New Yorker has called Donald Keene "America's preeminent scholar of Japanese literature." Now he presents a new book that serves as both a superb introduction to modern Japanese fiction and a memoir of his own lifelong love affair with Japanese literature and culture. Five Modern Japanese Novelistsprofiles five prominent writers whom Donald Keene knew personally: Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, Kawabata Yasunari, Mishima Yukio, Abe Ko¯bo¯, and Shiba Ryo¯taro¯. Keene masterfully blends vignettes describing his personal encounters with these famous men with autobiographical observations and his trademark learned literary and cultural analysis.
Keene opens with a confession: before arriving in Japan in 1953, despite having taught Japanese for several years at Cambridge, he knew the name of only one living Japanese writer: Tanizaki. Keene's training in classical Japanese literature and fluency in the language proved marvelous preparation, though, for the journey of literary discovery that began with that first trip to Japan, as he came into contact, sometimes quite fortuitously, with the genius of a generation. It is a journey that will fascinate experts and newcomers alike
[Keene] draws on his personal experience and deep knowledge of Japanese literature to paint biographical sketches which he illuminates with quotations from English translations of their representative novels and with a critical analysis of their writings.
This book is [Keene's] latest accomplishment that... tells about [his] participation in the cultural life of modern Japan as well as the story of the five modern Japanese novelists. And thatis what makes this book most appealing to general readers and experts alike.
Charming, personal, humorous... recommended.
Keene ably speculates on Mishima's spectacular suicide, makes a full-dress biography of the contrarian Abe seem absolutely necessary, and suggests how to increase American appreciation of Shiba.
Tanizaki Jun'ichiro (1886-1965)Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972)Mishima Yukio (1925-1970)Abe Kobo (1924-1993)Shiba Ryotaro (1923-1996)Supplemental Readings