A Shameful Life: (Ningen Shikkaku), Osamu Dazai, Mark Gibeau (trans) (Stone Bridge Press, November 2018)
A Shameful Life: (Ningen Shikkaku), Osamu Dazai, Mark Gibeau (trans) (Stone Bridge Press, November 2018)

Osamu Dazai is one of the most famous—and infamous—writers of 20th-century Japan. A Shameful Life (Ningen shikkaku) is his final published work and has become a bestselling classic for its depiction of the tortured struggle of a young man to survive in a world that he cannot comprehend.

That Convenience Store Woman is a delight to read probably goes without saying: it reached bestseller status in Japan and now is selling very well in English translation. The short novel by Sayaka Murata (an author and part time convenience store worker) is about thirty-six-year-old Keiko Furukura, who has worked half of her life in a branch of Smile Mart, a Tokyo convenience store. Working there she has found a kind of peace in the orderly store procedures and customer interaction dictates.

Fans of modern Japanese literature will not want to skip Patient X. These fans will recognize Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) as one of the most well-known Japanese authors and as having a top literary award—the Akutagawa Prize—named after him. Readers not familiar with Akutagawa will still likely be familiar with his short story “In a Grove”, which is about the widely differing accounts of a murder as related by witnesses and those involved. The famous director Akira Kurosawa used the story as the plot for his film Rashōmon.

Russia is once again much in the news, although the focus has been mostly westward-looking with the occasional southerly diversion to the Middle East. It’s worth remembered that Russia is the only major power other than the US which straddles a continent, giving it a physical presence that faces east as well as west. Here is an overview of some the books we have reviewed which cover Russia and East Asia.

Anton Chekhov, it appears, was not the first Russian literary luminary to visit Hong Kong. Chekhov had stopped off in October 1890 and wrote about its “wonderful bay”. English-language literature had to wait until Somerset Maugham came through more than a quarter-century later. But Chekhov was beaten to the punch by Ivan Goncharov who stopped by in 1853.