Yasushi Inoue – Three Short Stories

Yasushi Inoue

A review of a collection of Yasushi Inoue’s short stories on the blog 1streading inspired me to look for a book by this author. Luckily I found one just in time, before the end of Tony’s January in Japan. They had a large number of novellas, novels, and short story collections at the book shop. Clearly there’s more available in German than in English. Since I wanted to find out whether he’s an author I want to read more of, I got a collection with short stories first. The book is called Liebe (Love) in German and contains three stories. Translated these would be the titles : Death, Love and Waves – The Stone Garden – The Honeymoon. I’m annoyed that they didn’t bother including the Japanese titles even though I don’t speak or read it. Because of this omission I’m not sure whether you can find translations of these or not.

The first story tells the story of a man who has come to a hotel because he wants to kill himself. It took him some time to find the ideal spot. He wanted a place that was visually appealing and practical; one that would allow him to jump off a cliff and be dead right away. We don’t know why he wants to die at first, we only know that things don’t go according to plan because a young woman arrives with the same idea in mind. I was really wondering whether they would both jump, or if only one of them would do it or whether they would even decide to stay alive. This is such a typically Japanese story. I don’t think that Westerners write like this about suicide. What strikes a Western reader even more than the choice of topic is the reasoning behind the choice. In Western literature people who commit sucide are in great distress, but these two, sound very sober. It’s a question of honor and the logical thing to do. Our narrator looks at his own death from a great distance.

The second story was the one I liked best. A newly married man visits a stone garden with his young bride. The description of the nature and the garden is exquisite. The stone garden is a zen garden that proves to have a stunning effect. Every time the man visits the garden, his life changes completely. This time is no exception.

The last story was the saddest because it captured two absolutely unfulfilled lives. The only thing this married couple had in common was that they both avoided joy and were extremely avaricious. The only sign of their love for each other is that they agree so much in their avarice and that the man follows his wife’s example even after her death.

Yasushi Inoue, it seems, isn’t as widely read outside of Japan although he’s one of the greatest Japanese writers. I wonder why. Maybe the stories are too quietly odd? I thought these stories were a great introduction to Inoue’s work and I know I’ll read more of him. The mix between delicate descriptions of nature and character analysis that seems to have been executed with a scalpel is fascinating. I also loved that it felt strange and familiar at the same time.

If you have read Inoue I’d love to hear which books you’d recommend.

31 thoughts on “Yasushi Inoue – Three Short Stories

  1. Great commentary as always Caroline.

    I really need to read more fiction written by authors from different cultures. This sounds like such a worthy read. Inoue seems like a good writer for me to start with.

    • Thanks, Brian. I agree, he’s a great writer to start with. And he’s written many novellas which sound good and have been translated. I don’t always want to start with a hefty novel when I’m not sure. He’s a find for me.

  2. I love the sound of these stories and wish they were available in an English translation. I’ve read one of Inoue’s novellas, Bullfight, a story that centres on preparations for a bull sumo event – there’s a review at mine if you’re interested. I loved his prose, and there are some beautiful melancholy descriptions of the protagonist’s relationship with his lover.

    • Maybe they are available? I love his prose as well. It has a crystla clear quality. Very simple but not simplistic – if that make sense.
      I have a huge problem with stories about bull fights but I’ll check out your review anyway as soon as I get time.
      I wonder if Death of a Tea Master has ben translated? That’s the one I’d love to read the most at the moment. And Storm (I’m translating the German titles).

      • I don’t think they’re available at the moment but I hope Pushkin Press (or another publisher) will translate more in the future. Yes, your comnents about the clarity and beautiful simplicity of the prose make perfect sense.
        The bull sumo contest itself is quite a small element in the story, but I understand your difficulty with it. Better to look at the other titles available.

  3. I’ve wanted to read something, anything by Inoue for a long time…he’s almost impossible for me to find here in the States, at least from my library and bookstores. I’ll have to go online and buy something for my e-reader. I’ve had in mind The Bullfight from Jacqui’s blog, but you have shown me here that anything by him would be rewarding. Love, love, love Japanese literature.

    • I really think that’s true, you could pick anything. There’s apurity to his writing I found wonderful.
      Btw – I hope I didn’t “misbehave” but I couldn’t find your even aynmore or I would have mentioned it and linked to it. Is it over? Did I not look well enough?
      EVery time I read a Japanese author I wonder why I don’t read them more often.

  4. Great review, Caroline. I saw this book on January in japan as well and I instantly liked the sound of it. I haven’t read a lot of Japanese literature…apart from Murakami I don’t remember any other writer.
    It’s strange, after reading Murakami’s After Dark, I felt the same way about the writing, like he had peeled off the layers with a scalpel. It gave me goosebumps to read you had a similar thought.

    • Thanks, Delia. Oh that’s amazing about the scalpel. It’s pretty hard to put into words what makes Japanese authors special but the scalpel felt right somehow. Some are more dreamy than others. I always love their aesthetic.

  5. Wonderful review, Caroline! Yasushi Inoue’s name rings a bell, but I haven’t read any of his books. It is interesting to know that there are more of Inoue’s books translated into German than in English. It is nice that they are available in German, but sad that they are not available in English. I think I should learn German soon – in addition to reading my favourite German authors in the original, I can read some wonderful translated work. The novels of one of my favourite writers Mansoura Ez Eldin are all available in German but only one of them is available in English. I am still waiting for her novel ‘Beyond Paradise’ to be translated into English. All the three stories in Inoue’s book look quite interesting. The first story ‘Death, Love and Waves’ makes me remember Heinrich von Kleist and Henriette Vogel. I loved your description of ‘Stone Garden’. I have read about Zen gardens and how they leave things for the imagination and how that is the source of a lot of their beauty. I wish I could visit one of them one day. The third story about a couple who are in love with each other in a unique way is interesting too. I wish this book gets translated into English. I would love to read it. I loved this sentence from your review – “The mix between delicate descriptions of nature and character analysis that seems to have been executed with a scalpel is fascinating” – so beautiful!

    • Thanks, Vishy. I know you would like it but I’m sure his other novellas and short stories should be wonderful as well.
      In a typical German book shop you’ll find that at least two thirds of the books are books in translation. And most of them have not been translated into English. But into French.
      Thanks for letting me know about Mansoura Ez Eldin.🙂
      Zen gardens are very special The purity is amazing. It’s truly a great story. I didn’t know where he was gping with it and the end was so surprising.
      Why not learn German. I wonder how difficult it would be for you. I’m surrounded by people who try to learn German and they find it very hard.

      • Interesting to know about the typical German bookshop, Caroline. It is a paradise, from your description🙂 I loved Mansoura Ez Eldin’s ‘Maryam’s Maze’. In a slim 100-pages she takes the reader into Egyptian history and also tells a story with a surreal plot. Very beautiful. I will try to learn German this year – maybe some basics atleast. I have heard that it is hard, but I learnt Russian a few years back and struggled with the cases, but got a hang of them in the end. Hoping that, that knowledge will help when I learn German🙂 My dream is that I will be able to read a German book in the original during GLM🙂

        • I saw a language rating somewhere and there it said Russian was four times more difficult than German.🙂
          You’re ambitious. Do you want to do this for this year’s GLM?
          I remember you’re review of Maryam’s Maze. It sounded wonderful.

  6. I haven’t seen any of these around, but Inoue hasn’t really caught on, as you mentioned. I have one of the Pushkin three to go, and the three stories there are all different to yours. There’s so much there to bring into English, though – with a bit of luck, Inoue could be Pushkin’s new Zweig😉

    Oh, and (of course) those books are being given away this week over at the JiJ site🙂

  7. Thanks for the mention. I love the sound of each of these stories. I certainly plan to read the other two Pushkin Press titles when I can. There is some other work available in English, though largely out of print, and, as you point out, one of the problems with translated story collections is identifying the stories.

    • You’re welcome. Some editors add the original titles. It makes it so much easier to track down a book. Of course when it comes to japanese they have to add the phonetic writing as well.
      I’m going to read more of him.

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  9. I have always thought that short stories are one of the best ways to introduce yourself to a new author. Quite often a good short story will draw me further into the writer’s work. I like the sound of these–ever since I read Murakami I have had a new interest in Japanese literature (have read very little of it). These sound almost like literary suspense, though not in a traditional manner. I don’t mind odd or unusual at all–if it is done well, and these sound very well done!

    • I agree, it’s a great introduction to someone’s work.
      I want to read more Japanese literature as well. And certainly more of Inoue.
      I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on him.

  10. I like the sound of it, I’ll see if he’s been translated into French.

    There are at least too Western books that deal with suicide the same way as in this short story: Petit suicide entre amis by Arto Paasilina (Finland and I don’t think it’s available in English) and A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. In both cases, some people who intend to commit suicide find themselves with other people who are there for exactly the same reason. Both books are really funny.

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