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The Cape and Other Stories from the Japanese Ghetto Paperback – September 1, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-1880656396 ISBN-10: 1880656396

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Stone Bridge Press (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1880656396
  • ISBN-13: 978-1880656396
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,692,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews 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

From Publishers Weekly

Western readers often assume that Japan is one homogeneous culture, but Nakagami, award-winning burakumin writer, exposes the fissures behind this facade. Burakumin are outcast Japanese, marginalized and degraded by a centuries-old belief that they are mysteriously "tainted" with impure blood. Nakagami, who died in 1992 at the age of 46, was the first to achieve literary success while documenting this oppressive legacy. The title novella, "The Cape," introduces Akiyuki, like Nakagami himself an illegitimate son. The story, set in the Kishu region of Japan, centers around one extended and discordant family. A ceremony is held to honor Akiyuki's mother's first legal husband, while Akiyuki's biological father, "that man," is reputed to recklessly haunt the red light district's prostitutes. A man on Akiyuki's construction crew, Yasuo, has killed another worker on the crew, Furuichi, and the community turns on itself, in grief and blame. Akiyuki's conflicted feelings about his father merge with a desire for self-obliteration, and he seeks and beds the prostitute he believes is his father's daughter, his own half-sister. In "House on Fire," we continue with Akiyuki's story, and learn more about his father, Yasu, a violent pyromaniac. Akiyuki, in a new city and married, descends into alcoholic violence, beating his wife viciously after learning that Yasu has been fatally injured in a motorcycle accident. In these stories, Nakagami is unrelentingly grim, showing a Zola-like obsession with inherited traits. In the final entry, "Red Hair," Nakagami gives rein to his erotic side, depicting the frenzied and strange coupling of Kozo, a construction worker, and a mysterious red-haired hitchhiker. Nakagami's tough, ruthless prose is often abstruse, with a taut psychological subtext, while elsewhere the clarity is unassailable: his detailing of the desperate passions in a Japanese ghetto rupture American stereotypes of the peaceful, impassive "nature" of the Japanese. (May) FYI: The Cape won the Akutagawa Prize in 1976.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. E. Stevens VINE VOICE on June 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
Burakumin (部落民 hamlet people/village people) are a Japanese minority group who have faced discrimination in Japan. The Burakumin, although one of the main minority groups in Japan, are racially and ethnically identical to other members of this country. Most historians trace the creation of a rigid outcaste class back to the early eighteenth century, when the Toku-gawa government issued a number of edicts defining outcaste status and listing rules to regulate outcaste dress code and freedom of movement, going so far as to cover what style of house they could live in (no windows facing the street). Some scholars claim more ancient origins tracing outcaste communities to the 14th -15th century, these conflicts notwithstanding, Ian Neary* traces a development over time in the formation of outcaste identity: " whereas before 1600 the emphasis was on occupation afterwards it was on bloodline". Although they were legally liberated in 1871, with the abolition of the feudal caste system, this did nothing to put a stop to social discrimination or lower standard of living.

Todays Burakumin are descendants of these feudal era outcaste communities, whose occupations would have mainly comprised of work considered unpure, tainted with death or ritual impurity (such as executioners, undertakers, workers in slaughterhouses, butchers or tanners) and traditionally lived in their own secluded hamlets and ghettos. This isolation, added to the long history of taboos and myths concerning the buraku, has left a legacy of social desolation.
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