Stories and EssayseBook - 1996
Sato Haruo has been called one of the most representative writers of the Taisho era (1912-1926), a transitional period following Japan's monumental push toward modernization. Although he never identified himself as a modernist, Sato exhibited what some writers have identified as a characteristic of modernism: a complex net of contradictory impulses that embrace both the revolutionary and the conservative, revealing both an optimistic looking to the future and a pessimistic nostalgia for the past.
Six stories of amazing diversity and two critical essays revealing the understated Japanese ideals of beauty make up this volume, all translated into English for the first time. Forming a sequel to the three stories published in Sato's The Sick Rose, these stories exhibit an extraordinary variety of themes and styles, ranging from poetic fairy tales to psychological portraits to who-done-it crime stories. The title story is a utopian dream of a better city, populated by ideal people, that vanishes in a mirage. Another tale portrays the loneliness of a man unsuccessful with women. A third embellishes a bare Basho haiku about the man next door. Here too are the dream ballad of a Chinese prince, the imaginary world of a mad Japanese artist in Paris, and the probing search for an opium-drugged murderer. Sato's critical essays that conclude this volume have their themes in an exploration of the sad beauty of impermanence, the nature of enlightenment, the awareness of self, the merging of the instant and the eternal, and the "self-indulgent, unrestrained beauty" of the Japanese language. This collection not only affords insights into the complexity of the work of a gifted writer, but also significantly broadens the perspective of the literary world of the Taisho period.