Reviews

A Thoughtful Possession

Jonathan Heggen

The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories (Penguin Random House) is a new compendium edited and translated by Jay Rubin, with an introduction by Haruki Murakami, that aims to guide its readers through several hundred years of Japanese short fiction in several hundred pages. Is this a “greatest hits” collection? Not so much. To quote from Rubin’s editorial note, the reader “can be assured that all the works have been chosen because the editor has been unable to forget them, in some cases for decades.” Which is a wonderful rubric to score fiction against. This is not essential reading dictated by a college syllabus; instead, it was Rubin’s intention to collect stories which draw the reader into their emotional depths and keep them there, held so firmly that at times it might seem impossible to escape. These are stories written by people who have lived, and not in the passive definition of the word: people who have known life and its joys, known its great stretches of boredom, its violent terrors and its most subtle moments. These authors have traversed the vast territories of life and have returned to share that which most possessed their thoughts. To this end their work succeeds admirably, and this collection will have its readers similarly possessed as they become lost within its pages.

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