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Japan Sinks (Dover Doomsday Classics) Paperback – February 17, 2016
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Text: English, Japanese (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Japanese translator Michael Gallagher currently contributes to several websites, including Truthout.org and ContraryPerspective.com.
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Top Customer Reviews
Is this book worth it? Yes. It is not only a fantastic work of Japanese science-fiction--which is very rarely translated and brought to the US--but as a disaster novel, it manages to capture the confusion and outright terror brought about by the sinking of Japan. This event, brought about by a major shift of the tectonic plates, causes a series of devastating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, including the eruption of Mt. Fuji. The book is a fast read, with the last few pages being the equivalent of a punch in the gut as the Japanese struggle to deal with the inevitable outcome. Other issues are brought up, such as, what will the Japanese be without their home country? How will the world react to such an unprecedented disaster? And how does one go about evacuating over 110 million people?
Ironically, I finished the book right before a major quake struck Japan recently. To say that I got one hell of a chill down my spine is an understatement. Strangely enough, this 1995 translation has an introduction written by Sakyo Komatsu that spoke about the tragic Kobe earthquake which had occurred earlier that year.
In the end, I highly recommend this book.
I first read this book 10 years ago, after it had gone out of print in English a second time. The version I'd read was in French, and it struck me as a very political novel. This year I had to re-read the book in connection with a politics class I was teaching, and in the belief I'd save time I picked up my university library's English-language version. This time it read more like a science fiction novel with a lot of oceanography and geology, and very little politics. Once I compared the two, the reasons became clear: both the French and English versions are severe abridgements, but aside from a few key passages, the respective translators chose almost entirely complementary chunks of the original to put between the covers.
Broadly speaking, Michael Gallagher's version follows in the tradition of action- and FX-filled disaster movies. (That's a little surprising, since Gallagher is perhaps more famous as a translator of highbrow 20th Century Japanese literature, including Endo and Mishima.) It's rich in visual descriptions, and relishes scenes in which submersibles have mechanical problems or the scientific principles of plate tectonics are explained with holograms and other gadgets, as well as scenes where stuff goes up in smoke, pillars of flame, etc. Gallagher is also much more generous about the anatomical details of the few female characters in the book, including the hero's supposed love interest and fiancée, who is portrayed mainly as his sex toy (or actually, he as hers -- she is a Western-educated Japanese woman, and therefore, by the author's logic, aggressive). Most key scenes involving the deliberations of the Prime Minister and his cabinet or the inner musings of the PM and several other characters are either severely clipped or eliminated entirely; the same is true of some scenes involving the mysterious and pivotal character of Watari-san, a wheelchair-bound centenarian with the ability to pull strings all over the world.
In contrast, the French version (roughly the same length as Gallagher's, by the husband-and-wife team of M. and Mme. Shibata Masumi) presents the disasters are a pretext for a novel of ideas. It tends to summarise the scientific arguments (and the sex) and to include just enough visuals of the disaster to give the reader some flavour. But it's much more generous in showing the political and journalistic side, including Komatsu's very sardonic view of how Japan is seen by foreigners, as well as his expectation that the patriotic thing to do would be to conceal information from the prying eyes of the United States. (The one big exception is in the counterpart to Gallagher's Chapter 23, where the two translations include almost no overlapping passages. While the French mention that the PM speaks with both the financial community and opposition politicians, they only show the dialogue with the financiers, while Gallagher omits the money guys but does present the opposition's political wrangling.) We also get to see more of various characters' internal musings in French. And while the Shibatas' version doesn't exactly make the leading female character 3-dimensional, at least they make it clear why the hero was introduced to her, why the characters developed some feelings for each other, and some crucial things the hero told her before they were separated by natural events. That wasn't the only aspect of character motivation I found clearer in the French version, either.
While I don't yet read Japanese well enough to hack through all 800 pages of the original, those I know who have read it maintain that the novel of ideas was more what the author intended, a point he also apparently mentioned in interviews. In particular, Komatsu wondered whether the Japanese could be like the Jews, holding onto their identity even when deprived of a homeland (a point that comes up a couple of times in the French abridgement, especially). For this reason, as well as for Komatsu's subtle exploration of the many ethical and diplomatic dilemmas a government would face in dealing with the disappearance of a country and a cultural homeland, I think the Gallagher version really isn't adequate.
Unfortunately, Komatsu is no longer among the living, and the fragmentation of copyright that often follows an author's death, coupled with the conservative customs of the Japanese publishing industry, make it unlikely that an unabridged translation will appear soon, if ever. Some might even argue that Komatsu endorsed Gallagher's translation when he wrote a preface to its 1995 re-issue, expressing hope that the book could help readers understand the plight of the victims of the Kobe earthquake earlier that year. Since Gallagher's is the best that's available in English, and is certainly an entertaining read, I give it four stars. Just be aware that this is definitely the Hollywood version.