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The Cape: and Other Stories from the Japanese Ghetto (Stone Bridge Fiction) [Paperback]

By Kenji Nakagami & Eve Zimmerman (Translator)
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Item description for The Cape: and Other Stories from the Japanese Ghetto (Stone Bridge Fiction) by Kenji Nakagami & Eve Zimmerman...

Born into the burakumin-Japan's class of outcasts-Kenji Nakagami depicts the lives of his people in sensual language and stark detail. The Cape is a breakthrough novella about a burakumin community, their troubled memories, and complex family histories. Includes House on Fire and Red Hair.

Kenji Nakagami (194692) was a prolific writer admired for his vigorous prose style.

Outline Review
Forget everything you thought you knew about Japanese literature; in The Cape and Other Stories from the Japanese Ghetto, Kenji Nakagami shows a face of Japan that's unlike any the West has seen before. A member of the burakumin minority--often called Japan's untouchables--the author used disjointed, rough-hewn prose to describe a gritty, down-and-out world. Both "The Cape" and "House on Fire" explore the tangled family ties of Akiyuki, a construction worker who lives among the crowded roji or alleyways of the Kishu province. Marked by madness, incest, and violence, the place makes Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County look like Mr. Rogers's neighborhood. In the course of "The Cape," for instance, Akiyuki's sister loses her mind, an in-law dies after being stabbed in his "good leg," and Akiyuki himself sleeps with a whore he strongly suspects is his half-sister. In spite of this troubled legacy, this man is the very opposite of introspective. With his longing for purity and his tireless appetite for physical labor, he's a kind of blank canvas against which his complicated family romance plays out:
The tree reminded him of himself. Akiyuki didn't know what kind of tree it was, and he didn't care. The tree had no flowers or fruit. It spread its branches to the sun, it trembled in the wind. That's enough, he thought. The tree doesn't need flowers or fruit. It doesn't need a name.
Unfortunately, the third story here ("Red Hair") is a disappointment--the kind of cheerless, one-note erotica that makes sex look like a torture devised by Existentialist philosophers. No matter; grand, tragic, and structurally complex, "The Cape" and "House on Fire" contain enough Freudian drama between them to keep a pair of Faulkner scholars obsessed for weeks. Skillfully translated by Eve Zimmerman (who also provides a preface, afterword, and helpful family tree), this is fiction of explosive power and formal daring. --Mary Park

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Item Specifications...

Pages   186
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.5" Width: 5" Height: 7.5"
Weight:   0.4 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 2008
Publisher   Stone Bridge Press
ISBN  1933330430  
ISBN13  9781933330433  

Availability  0 units.

More About Kenji Nakagami & Eve Zimmerman

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Nakagami (1946-92) was a prolific novelist and short story writer who was admired as much for his prose style as his depictions of the burakumin. He received the prestigious Akutagawa Prize for "The Cape" in 1976.

Kenji Nakagami was born in 1946 and died in 1992.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General
3Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Short Stories > General

Reviews - What do customers think about The Cape: and Other Stories from the Japanese Ghetto (Stone Bridge Fiction)?

The harder one tries to escape, the tighter the bonds become  Jun 5, 2006
In "The Cape" (5 stars), Nakagami excels at drawing the reader into what quickly becomes a nightmarish reality and oppressive existence for the protagonist Akiyuki, a young man who only wants to live a simple life, and yet is unable to escape the chains and fetters of his bloodline. He is defined, and defines himself, by his relation to others--his mother, his siblings, but most of all, his father. In the climax of the story, in his desperation to fight against his father's influence in his life, Akiyuki becomes most like his father--drunk, wild, and in bed with a prostitute (who very likely is his father's daughter, Akiyuki's own half-sister!). The more Akiyuki fights his destiny, the closer he comes to fulfilling it.

Unfortunately, "House on Fire" (4 stars) explores similar themes but without quite the same impact as "The Cape". Where "The Cape" was incredibly focused, with the plot and characters masterfully detailed, "House on Fire" tries (perhaps a little over-ambitiously) to tell the dual stories of Akiyuki's father, Yasu, and Akiyuki's later life family problems. Like "The Cape", this story is told in the third person, but the events surrounding his father are viewed from the perspective of Akiyuki's older brother (a boy of 11 or 12 at the time) whereas Akiyuki is the subject and object of the later events. The shifts in time and perspective make this very short story disjointed and difficult for the reader to become fully engaged in, unlike "The Cape". Although the "like father, like son" themes are the same, Akiyuki's personality has dramatically shifted from a well-meaning youth to a chillingly violent man, his transformation into his hated father complete. The reader is left with little sympathy for the "arsonist" father and son who destroy fragile houses made not only of wood, but of family ties.

"Red Hair" (3.5 stars) is an unrelated story that tells of the sexual liaison between the blue-collar Kozo and a red-haired hitch-hiker. The story lacks the fire of a young Oe or Murakami Ryu, the twisted passion of Tanizaki or Mishima, or even the cool detachment of a Murakami Haruki and is instead essentially just a well-written, but ultimately forgettable piece of erotica. This collection of stories might have been better served had another of Nakagami's pieces been chosen, as this one is a step below the first two stories.

Although "Red Hair" is a disappointment and "House on Fire" pales in comparison to "The Cape", the title story alone makes picking up this book worthwhile. Very well-written with an eye to detail, "The Cape" is clearly a direct product of Nakagami's guts and soul. Akiyuki's futile yet valiant struggle against his genes makes for a memorable work, one that personifies a gifted writer who maintains a unique place in Japanese post-war literature.

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