Recomendamos: Book Review: American Stories by Nagai Kafu

Nagai Kafu is a somewhat underrated writer when one thinks of Japanese literature. I say this now after having read one of his early collections, American Stories. While I’ve not read any of his novels yet (Rivalry: A Geisha’s Tale will be next), much of his work has simply not been translated into English. Other than American Stories and Rivalry, no other major works of his seem to either be 1) translated into English and 2) easily available on Amazon. Published by Columbia University Press, Kafu’s work came recommended by a fellow writer friend of mine, and given Kafu’s influence upon the great Tanizaki, I became eager to read him. Happily, I can state that American Stories is both inventive, surprisingly fresh, and many of the tales within are excellent reads. In fact, this is a great book for any young short story writer to examine, for Kafu’s narrative play, but also because the tales are economically written and also full of memorable characters who are not stereotypes.

Kafu spent four years in the United States back in the early part of the last century (1903-1907 to be exact), and so American Tales is basically a slice of Americana written by a Japanese. Not only do we see America through his point of view, but he is never dull or repetitive. The tales, especially those found in the first half of the book, are impossible to put down. For example, in “Atop the Hill,” a Japanese man arrives at a mid-western college, and is surprised to learn that there is another Japanese also there. The principal then tells him that Mr. Watano will be “glad” to see him, since he’s not seen a Japanese for a number of years.

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