Although Akira Yoshimura is one of Japan's most prolific and celebrated authors, his work is little known outside of his native country. Shipwrecks
, one of the first of his 20 novels to be translated into English, tells the tale of Isaku, a 9-year-old boy who is forced to scrounge to provide for his desperately poor family. For the people of the medieval Japanese village in which Isaku lives, the only relief from near starvation comes in the guise of the shipwrecks of the title. To lure merchant ships off course, the villagers light huge bonfires. But even their success turns to disaster when the wreckage of one such ship includes not only rice, but smallpox.
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From Publishers Weekly
Yoshimura's resonant reconstruction of the poverty-stricken life in a medieval Japanese fishing village is the first of his 20 novels to be translated into English. Nine-year-old Isaku's humble existence is defined by personal habit and village ritual. While his father is indentured for three years, Isaku grows from an uninformed innocent to a 12-year-old seasoned by brutality and tragedy. Living on the border of starvation, villagers depend on such cyclical catches as squid, octopus and sardine. They collect linden bark for kindling and thread. They also depend on the O-fune-sama, annual winter sailing ships lured by the fires from salt cauldrons burning on the shores. When a ship runs aground on the reef, the villagers habitually slaughter the crew and live off bales of rice and other cargo. One O-fune-sama, however, spells doom. Its crew's secret booty is smallpox. Uncompromising details of the plague lead to a melancholy conclusion when the infected chief decrees mountain banishment for all who carry the disease, including Isaku's mother, brother and his first love. Isaku, his life changed irrevocably, is left alone to endure a bittersweet reunion with his father. Yoshimura's lean novel gracefully recounts the daily struggles of impoverished people to retain-and even create-their humanity under conditions in which mere survival is an achievement.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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