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The Reed Cutter & Captain Shigemoto's Mother

Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (July 24, 1886–July 30, 1965) was a master at burrowing right down into the heart of human relationships while describing them with precision and clarity. English translations by Anthony H. Chambers of his short story "The Reed Cutter" (蘆刈, or "Ashikari" in Japanese) and Captain Shigemoto's Mother (少将滋幹の母, or Shōshō Shigemoto no haha), published in 1932 and 1949, respectively, appear in this book which came out in 1993. The narrators for both quote from a number of old poems and other stories. Among the main themes is the transience of life, including our endeavors made out of love and for family, and the consequences of our actions over generations.

I enjoyed reading both, perhaps "The Reed Cutter" more. In Captain Shigemoto's Mother, the narrator digressed too often, which was intentional but made the narration hard to follow at times. What's best about the stories is the imagery, particularly the descriptions of nature and autumn in the first half of "The Reed Cutter" and those of death and rot towards the end of Captain Shigemoto's Mother. Remarkable writing from one of Japan's most revered literary figures.


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