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Shipwrecks (Harvest Book) Paperback – February 15, 2000


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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (February 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156008351
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156008358
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #487,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Yoshimura's writing style is sharp yet infused with rich emotion.
T. Larsen
I have no idea why we needed to see Isaku age over so long a time, and so much of this book was overflated, overstated, and just not necessary.
Michael Tounian
You worship it like a god, and ask its blessing and fear its retribution.
Zack Davisson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Ratmammy VINE VOICE on February 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
SHIPWRECKS by Akira Yoshimura
Written by one of Japan's most honored novelists, Akira Yoshimura, SHIPWRECKS is a tale that takes place in a poverty stricken Japanese fishing village during Medieval times and centers on the difficult life that the villagers endure to keep alive. Translated from the Japanese by Mark Ealey, it is a tale of suffering and hard work, told from the viewpoint of a young boy as he grows from child into man.
Young Isaku is 9-year-old boy at the start of this story. But for him, childhood is short-lived, and even as a young boy of five, he was expected to pull his weight and help support his family. The village where he lives is isolated from the rest of the island, and to make ends meet, they resort to fishing and trading, depending on the season. The other option is selling oneself into servitude or bondage, in exchange for goods. Isaku's father has sold himself, and at the start of this novel he is already living in another village working for his master.
In the meantime, Isaku is the man of the house, and it is up to him to catch their food and to keep his mother and siblings from starvation. Rice is hard to come by, and most of their meals are vegetables or grains traded for salt with the neighboring village. He barely knows how to fish, so it is not often that they have anything substantial to eat.
Isaku eventually learns about the "ofune-sama", which is Japanese for "ship god" or "ship master", and it is this ofune-sama that helps the village thrive. Every few years, a ship or two will ground itself upon the rocks that border their shores and the villagers will pillage and kill any survivors on that ship to take what they can to feed their families. The villagers see no harm in this.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John IV on April 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Languid, beautifully ascetic prose tells the story of a young boy's coming of age in an extremely poor fishing village on the medieval Japanese coastline. Isaku [9] is primed to take over as head of the household after his father sells himself into indentured servitude in a neighboring village. This wonderfully crafted snapshot of an ancient lifestyle tells of his slowly developing fishing techniques, his interaction with his mother and siblings, and his later attempts at wooing a village girl. Surviving always on the brink of starvation, the village has for centuries employed a technique of luring and beaching passing ships to supplement their staples. Once the ships have had their bottoms ripped by the rocks, the villagers kill the remaining crew and dismantle and disseminate the ship skeleton and its cargo [rice, wine, sugar, etc.]. One good size `haul' of this type would last a family many years. Like the reader, Isaku is gradually introduced to the various methodologies employed in the creation of the salt fires which lure the ships during stormy nights. The novel spans the three years of the fathers servitude and presents the unvarying, but vitally important changes of the season which bring their own seafood type and technique for capture. This translation's writing matches the sparseness of the village, presenting itself with the stark beauty of a crashing Japanese reef. One certainly gets lost in the wonderful descriptions of this far-away time and place. Conflict arrives at the hind end of this novel in a whirlwind conclusion, the abrupt finality mirroring anguish and despondency in the reader as well as Isaku. A very intriguing and recommended read.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Shipwrecks is a tale of a town's destruction told through one resident's eyes. The witness in Yoshimura's novel is Isaku, who, at the beginning of the book is only a nine year old boy. His small fishing village is balancing precariously between a meager life and death by starvation. Family by family, the inhabitants stave off total collapse only through selling their individual kin into slavery in the town across the mountains.
After Isaku's father has been removed from the home in just such an arrangement, the boy continues to live with his mother and younger brother and sister, Isokichi and Kane. The story is, in some ways, the tale of Isaku's loss of innocence as he attempts to fulfill the duties of head of the household--fishing for saury and sardines and octopus and squid, and, most importantly, tending the salt cauldrons. For Isaku, this represents a confirmation of his own maturation, for the salt cauldrons are of prime importance to the town and its people.
A naïve boy, Isaku comes to learn that, in addition to boiling the salt out of sea water to sell, the fires on shore serve another, more sinister, purpose--that of luring unsuspecting trading ships onto the reef. The village calls it O-fune-sama and sees it--the destruction of those ships and the subsequent murder of their sailors, as a gift from the gods, no different from any other harvest, such as rice and pottery, cloth and utensils. Far from being a crime, what the villagers are now engaged in nourishes the small town and keeps it from dying.
Even as Isaku learns about the inherent risks--specifically those of luring clan ships to ruin instead of trading ships--O-fune-sama is never questioned: it is a necessity and a customary part of the yearly cycle; there is no moral question to be answered...
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