To all the books I’ve never read,
I offer my condolences,
whether resting on my shelves
or in the sea of libraries
beyond my ken – all ologies
and ographies, and osophies
that ever were, all stories that have
ever caused a smile to spread,
or made a reader shed a tear.
All kinds. The beautiful with gilt decor,
hand-tooled, or marbled, rubric red,
great folios, and Teeny Teds, in cowhide,
calfskin – take your pick. Poor casualties, too,
with broken spines and guts adrift, or
eaten up by worm and fish may join
the line. God bless them all, I say.
And perhaps some contra-world exists
whereThe Giggles of Young Werther
sits upon its shelf next to, let’s say,
The Selfie – yes! – of Dorian Grey;
where lazy readers will be forced for weeks
upon the rack to read each single, tiny fact;
where those who turn down corners
of their pages face torment foul
throughout the ages. Verily, I’ll drink to that!
From ‘Musings on the Merry-go-Round: A Medley of Verse for us Riders of the Earth’
1. The title of the poem is from E.F. Benson (1867-1940), taken from a line in Chapter XIV of his 1916 WWI novel Michael, although I’m more acquainted with his short stories in the supernatural genre. Benson was one of the pre-eminent writers of ghost stories in the early years of the 20th century (and the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, no less!).
‘Teeny Teds’: Teeny Ted from Turnip Town is said to be the world’s smallest reproduction of a printed book.
‘The Giggles of Young Werther’: A parodied reference to Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werther / The Sorrows of Young Werther, 1774 (revised,1787), written when he was just 24, a first novel which shot him to fame and for which much of his life he was to be most remembered. Written at a time when he was in an unsettled state of mind, the book is a semi-autobiographical version of his unhappy love affair with Charlotte Buff, at the time engaged to his friend Johann Kestner (note that the names Werther and Goethe rhyme; we might just as well say ‘The Sorrows of Young Goethe’). It’s a story of unrequited love which developed, on Werther’s part, into an obsession. Werther most certainly emerges as a sorrowful figure, but at the same time one for whom real sympathy is not easy to marshal. It’s a short work – a ‘slim volume’ – but readers will most likely still find it slow going due to the heaviness of the central character’s emotional involvement. This sketch, as with others which appear below, is deliberately sparse so as to give no ‘spoilers’ for anyone who hasn’t read the novel but who might wish to do so. And my ‘Giggles’, I must here confess, turned out to be around two hundred and thirty years too late; at the time of writing the poem I had no idea that I had been up-staged in Goethe’s own lifetime by Friedrich Nicolai’s 1775 parody‘Die Freuden des jungen Werther / The Joys of Young Werther.
‘The Selfie of Dorian Grey’: Oscar Wilde’s widely popular The Picture of Dorian Grey, of course, should need no introduction.
2. Books can evoke a variety of emotions, not only through their content, but, as all true bibliophiles know, through their very touch – the handling and feeling of them. Even in these days of mass production and the loss of quality in paper and in binding, it is still possible to find a newly published book that is well made and feels good to hold. With old books – going back to the early 20th century, at least – it was always the case; they were made for the looking-at, for the weighing in the hand, for their easy opening and closing. Then, apart from the book itself, there is the matter of ownership. I remember what my life-long partner said to me in our first year of marriage, when I had bought a new book (not much money to buy books, in those days) and was in the act of signing it as belonging to me and no-one else: ‘ ‘Who’, she said, ‘will remember who Dafydd Hughes Lewis was, a hundred years from now?’ An image of Y Melin Trefin flicked through my mind, the old mill still standing there but the miller… no more. I never signed that book, and I have never signed another one since, not a single one of all my seven thousand. I have a fair number of books which have been signed, though, some by celebrated writers whose names are familiar to all – and more by persons unknown. When I pick up a book signed by a well-known author long gone, I feel a warm glow about the kidneys, and it occurs to me. ‘Just think, this book was actually part of his/her library; s/he would have held this very book in the hand, just as I’m holding it now… ‘. But the feeling of opening an old book owned long ago by some unknown reader and regarding the original owner’s signature there is quite different, and somewhat sad. ‘Who was this person?’ runs through the mind – who was J.J. Millidge, June, 1859? Who was Inez Haskins, Private Library No.420, undated, but c.1920? Or John Jones, Trofarth School, Bettws, Abergele, 1893? There are many more. But the most thought-provoking, and saddest of all among such books on my shelves is the small octavo volume with marbled boards, gilt leather-backed and cornered. truly beautiful little book (when they knew how to make beautiful books), the one which bears, on the fly-leaf, the inscription ‘Edith W. Cushman from Grandmother 25th Dec.,1876’. This lovely copy of de la Motte Fouqué’s enchanting tales was bought, probably in New York, as young Edith’s Christmas Day gift from her unnamed grandmother. God bless you, Edith, and God bless, Gran – your well-chosen Christmas present is in good hands. I remember, too, when browsing through Blackwell’s famous Broad Street bookshop in Oxford, in the days when Oxford had, sadly, ceased for some years to be a treasury of rare and antiquarian bookshops and Blackwell’s second-hand section was about the only place worth looking any more, coming across shelf upon shelf of books on Scotland, mostly about its literature, history and archaeology, all signed with the same name. This had obviously been the proud collection of some Oxford-based Scottish bibliophile and possibly scholar, whose relatives, faced with the problem of what to do with the books, had decided upon Blackwell’s as the best course. So, I wonder, what is going to happen to my own library with its more than ample scattering of titles on the literature and history of Wales? Here, In Far Formosa? I mean, there are not too many English-language second-hand bookshops here, and it’s not as though I hear too many people around me singing ‘Who is Sylvia? What is she?’ or ‘Bobby Shaftoe’ any more. Humpphh…
But back to books which make us feel glad, and to some personal favourites, some well-known and others a probably a bit off the beaten track, which I’d like to share as a little nourishment in these peculiar stay-at-home days. They are grouped in couples due to a certain similarity they share. And they all have something further in common in that they are participants in a similar theme, which is the strange, the uncanny, the atmospheric, the preternatural – not of E.F. Benson’s ‘spooky stories’, nor of the outright Gothic, nor anything to do with ‘ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night’, but of an unearthliness which must be classed, each in its own way, as more subtly unsettling, or more magical, or more miraculous. It’s no easy task for a writer to project such ideas successfully. Each one of the six who follow does so masterfully.
3. The first two have enjoyed immense popularity, and must surely be considered as among the very best novels of the 20th century – yet I know of avid readers who have never managed to feast their eyes on them. I’m talking about Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and Gabriel García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude. Both are Titans of the imagination. Their unbelievable, inexhaustible expansiveness is such that no plot summary could do either of them justice, and both defy genre categorization (‘magical realism’ had to be invented specifically for them).They are dazzling, stupendous, incomparable, unsurpassable masterpieces.
One hot Spring evening,The Master and Margarita tells us, Woland, a gentleman known by other names, arrives in Moscow with an unusual band of disciples which includes a clownish valet, a demonic black cat with human attributes, a beautiful naked witch and an ill-boding assassin. Throughout the story these wreak utter havoc in the city, a despoliation sometimes comic, but with it, pitiful and alarming. Their mischief, fed upon and aggravated by Moscow’s haplessly responsive citizens, also alternately melds and contrasts with the other principal situations presented by the story. One, which has been visited many times in literature, is the role into which Pontus Pilate finds himself thrust in the trial of Jesus – and we are transported from 20th century Moscow to 1st century Jerusalem. Another is the Faustian theme, highlighted particularly in a re-enactment of Goethe’s Classical / Walpurgisnacht scene from Book 2 of his Faust, where we find ourselves catapulted through the vast inky blacknesses of space to be set down again as guestsat a weird Underworld extravaganza. Yet another is the quiet thread of human self-examination and spirituality which runs through the telling, and the deep love and peace which, despite all the hectic shifting of events and that which controls them, is brought into the lives of two unhappy people – and this is the crux of it all.
Set in the remote settlement of Macondo in the mountains and jungles of Colombia. One Hundred Years of Solitude tells of seven generations of the Buendia family whose ancestor, José Arcadio Buendia, founded the township after experiencing a dream. Undisturbed by the outside world, Macondo dreams itself away in its solitude, its only visitors a band of Gypsies which passes through each year, bringing with them practices and knowledge which are magical and mysterious to the townspeople. Wonders and miracles permeate throughout all Macondo’s and the Buendia family’s years, along with the inevitable loves and hates, gains and losses, joys and sorrows; but despite its isolation it is drawn into larger events which affect it from beyond its perimeter. Change does come, and Macondo and its inhabitants are eventually exposed to modernity and an influx of visitors who sometimes enrich and sometimes blight its existence. It is difficult to remark on more than a small number of the characters in a family with such complicated relationships and in which so many are larger than life and enigmatic, but the Buendias cannot be left without naming some of the more fascinating among them: Outstanding is its long-lived first matriarch, Ursula Iguarán, whose wisdom and fortitude are an exemplary guide through so many of its generations. Then there is Colonel Aureliano Buendia, energetic warrior and quiescent goldsmith, a massive character lionized for his many feats in the long war against outside Government forces. And – Oh! From where in Heaven’s name could the utter naked marvel of Remedios the Beauty have sprung? She is too lovely a creature and too much a stranger in the world into which she was born … There are many, many more deserving of mention, each one contributing to the kaleidoscopic mesh of life with its fortunes and vicissitudes, triumphs and tragedies, which haunt the Buendia clan and their Macondo.
It’s worth looking at the lives of these two writers, and comparing the situations in which they wrote:
Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) was a Ukraine-born writer, playwright and physician who struggled throughout his career to get his plays staged and his writing published. Under the heavy, censorious atmosphere of the Soviet system he was thwarted at every turn, and in 1929 government censors stopped publication of all his work. He had started work on The Master and Margarita in 1928, and continued working on it for many years. In the 1930s, with all odds against him – it was only the intervention of Stalin, a great admirer of one of his plays, which saved him from arrest, and possible execution, many times – depressed, and in poor health, seeing no future as a writer in the midst of such widespread literary repression, he still had hopes for what he called his ‘sunset’ novel. He believed it was worthy, and in his last years told his wife, who was devoted to him, that it deserved being kept in secure and secret storage. During the final phases of his illness he was visited by staunch friends, and passed away in their and his wife’s company.It was not until 1967 that The Master and Margarita was fully published in book form, in Paris, after being smuggled out of Russia (by his widow?). The novel, with others of his works, is certainly a criticism of the political repression of the Soviet system. In 2005, in the more relaxed Russia we know today, it was made into an immensely popular television series.
Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014) was born in the small town of Aracataca, Colombia. He was a journalist, novelist, and short-story writer whose works achieved worldwide acclaim and commercial success. One Hundred Years of Solitude was published in 1967, and in 1982 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. His 2002 autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, tells us much about his earlier days: his poverty as a young journalist in a literary backwater where aspiring writers were eager, but found it almost impossible, to get their hands on popular English-language works like those of Faulkner and Hemingway; the ever-present undercurrent of political strife which was wont to erupt into violence. But most of all it informs us of how his younger years living with his grandparents in remote, mountainous Aracataca (the model for the novel’s Macondo) shaped his imagination and work (reading the autobiography is in many parts very much like reading his famous novel all over again). The hero-Colonel Aureliano Buendia was modeled on his grandfather, also a Colonel who had played a part in the same war against the Government. In Aracataca, as in Macondo, there was a free and easy attitude to life, but it was accompanied by hardship all around. Márquez’ leftist political views as an established writer and journalist led to his being denied entry to the USA until President Clinton, who had read and enjoyed his great novel, lifted the ban. In the years following the literary fame brought by One Hundred Years of Solitude, Márquez, with his family, lived for many years in Barcelona, Catalunya, later settling and ending his days in Mexico City.
What a difference in the literary environment of these two writers! Bulgakov, under Moscow’s northern skies, struggling to be heard but forever frustrated by having to suffer his work being constantly under the surveillance and dictates of harsh Government censors: and Márquez, in warm and verdant Colombia, excitedly experimenting with styles among the open journalistic ‘café’ fraternity of Barranquilla and Bogotá. Bulgakov, unable to see his best work published during his lifetime; Márquez, receiving literary accolades and world fame during his. And the great coincidence of these two masterpieces of literature, each one so suffused with a daring, spellbinding similarity, the one twenty-seven long years after its author’s demise and the other fresh off the writer’s pen, being published in the very same year. It is as though Mikhail Bulgakov’s ghost had made a timely appearance, announcing ‘Magical Realism? Is it time? Yes, here I am’.
4. The second couplet of titles are Leo Perutz’ Der Schwedischer Reiter / The Swedish Cavalier (1936) and Nachts unter der Steinernen Brücke / By Night under the Stone Bridge (1952).
The Swedish Cavalier begins with the childhood memories of an 18th century lady, Maria Christine, and her troubled recollections of receiving secret, nightly visits from her father, officially announced killed in the Swedish wars. That is our introduction to the mystery – the story proper then takes place before her birth, in the winter of 1701, with two unlikely companions whom fate has thrown together struggling against the cold of an open, windswept (Pomeranian? It doesn’t say; that’s my guess) landscape toward the sanctuary of a derelict mill. One is a young nobleman who has deserted from the Swedish army; the other, a seasoned thief. Both are fleeing the gallows. From that point on, the story boils over into a fascinating, fast-paced tale of deceit, sacrifice, love, betrayal, and redemption.
By Night under the Stone Bridge is a series of closely linked, richly detailed short stories set in the 16th century Prague of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, his court full of scheming sycophants, his treasury empty, and himself paranoid. The story centres around the Emperor, an immensely wealthy Jew, Meisl, his beautiful young wife Esther and the Great Rabbi Loew whose task it is, in the midst of other, interlinked events told by many voices, to sever an illicit and mysterious love tryst which takes place each night under the Stone Bridge. Main themes are survival, gain, love, and pain in the time immediately preceding the destruction of Prague and Bohemia in the catastrophic Thirty Years War.
Leo Perutz (1882-1957) was a writer and mathematician born in Prague during the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Drafted into the armies which played out the horrific conflict which followed the collapse of the Dual Monarchy, he was invalided from the Eastern Front with a bullet-pierced lung. He lived on in Austria, the small rump-state of the Empire, until the Nazi Anschluss of 1938, when he escaped to Palestine. For the rest of his life he split his time between the nascent Israel and his earlier semi-homeland of Austria.
Perutz published eleven books which, although championed by writers of such stature as Jorge Luis Borge and Italo Calvino, remained largely unknown in the English-language world. His ‘rediscovery’ in Europe and the English-speaking world did not occur until the 1980s and 1990s, but seems to have faded since. What can be said of the style and content of his work? Well, he was a master of narrative whose work was a blend of history and fantastical surrealism which, defying a slotting into any genre, could easily be said to be a precursor of the yet-to-be-coined ‘magical realism’; and the same, I venture, could be said of other authors and works, such as Anatole France’s 1890 The Revolt of the Angels, Hermann Hesse’s 1946 The Glass Bead Game, Jean Ray’s 1943 Malpertuis, perhaps Charles Maturin’s 1820 Melmoth the Wanderer, (or is that too Gothic? The line can be fine), and certainly Jan Potocki’s ?1815 amazingly layered The Manuscript found in Saragossa (fun trivia fact: ‘Saragossa’ < ‘Caesaraugusta’). I’m sure there are others which could be added to the list, which would give ‘magical realism’ a long literary tradition before its recognized ‘coming of age’ with the modern giants Bulgakov and Márquez.
5. In the third couplet of novels we move away from the borders of magical realism to, as mentioned above, an unearthliness which is more subtly unsettling. Here are Yukio Mishima’s Haru no Yuki / Spring Snow and Kobo Abé’s Suna no Onna /The Woman in the Dunes. Mishima’s book is actually the first of his Sea of Fertility tetralogy and is further developed in Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn, and The Decay of the Angel. The latter three take the story ‘where it is going’, with a decided change of emphasis which ventures far beyond the initial volume’s outset; but Spring Snow is a self-contained, tragedy-tinged love story in itself and can most certainly be appreciated on its own. Mishima features a rich prose style in tune with the complexity of characters and events. Abé’s The Woman in the Dunes, in contrast, is told in a simple, straightforward fashion which matches its starkness.
Spring Snow covers some fifteen months from the end of Autumn, 1912, to the end of Winter,1914, and is set in the years of the Meiji Restoration, a period which saw Japan emerge (on being coerced, initially, by the gunboat diplomacy of the United States of America, then in its earlier stages of seeking a world-wide role) from its feudal, isolationist past into an era of interaction with the outside world and in particular with ‘The Great Powers of the West’. It was an age of great transformation which saw the line between the old aristocracies and the new administrative, industrialist and merchant classes dim, changes which brought about significant tensions in a society so long steeped in tradition, Samurai overlordship, and Emperor worship. The story opens with the friendship of Kiyoaki Matsugae and Shigekuni Honda, the sons of two rich provincial families which typify the dichotomous values of that transitional Japan; both are students at an elite school. During a boating outing by both on an artificial lake on his family estate, Kiyoaki accidentally meets up with an old childhood friend, a girl, Ayakura Satoko, who is now a beautiful young woman – and a member of the high aristocracy. The reserved and shy Kiyoaki is indifferent at first, while Satoko is interested and responsive; she has a ‘crush’ on him. Their subsequent relationship is up and down due to Kiyoaki’s acted-out disinterest, but eventually has to face up to great adversity as, at a crucial stage in her life, he realizes he truly loves her; their relationship develops into a strong and secretive one. The sensible and self-assured Honda is his friend’s conscience and confessor throughout. And here it is best to stop, so as not to reveal more of the complexities of this love relationship and the destinies it has in store.
Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) was an author, poet and playwright whose output was prodigious (34 novels, 50 plays, 25 short story collections, plus many essays). He is one of the most important post-war prose stylists of the Japanese language and one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century, considered for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963, ’64, ’65, and ’68. He was also one of the most complex and controversial. He was descended from the very highest level of Japan’s old-time aristocracy through his grandmother, who had a most considerable influence over his early life. At twelve years of age he was returned to his father, a strict disciplinarian. From six years old he attended an elite school, among the student body of which were counted members of the Imperial family and descendants of the old nobility; his studies included much European literature together with Classical Japanese. His relationships and some tragic personal incidents during his youth and young manhood during the dark days of Japan’s surrender at the end of WWII deeply affected and inspired his later writing. From 1946 on he achieved much success for his stories and novels. There was talk of the possibility of his marriage to Michiko Shoda, who was later to marry Crown Prince Akihito and who, on Akihito’s accession to the Imperial throne upon his father Hirohito’s death, became Empress Michiko. It was Mishima’s political activities which marked him as controversial. He had all his life stood for the traditions and spirit of Japan, and in his thirties, firmly committed to ethnic nationalism, deeply disappointed with intrusive, imported materialism and Japan’s post-war policies, he formed the Tatenokai, an unarmed militia, with the idea of restoring the spirit of Japan’s eroded culture. His organization was regarded with cautious tolerability by the military. On November 25, 1970, he and four of his inner circle visited the Headquarters of the Eastern Command of the Japan Self Defense Force in Tokyo, and upon being admitted to the Commandant’s office took him hostage and had him assemble the garrison in the parade ground below. Mishima then stood on the balcony to address the assembled soldiers, urging them that the time had come to overthrow Japan’s constitution of submission.The assembled soldiers were dumbfounded; they were aware of Mishima’s celebrated status and his militant Tatenokai, but were not prepared for anything like this, which amounted to open incitement to a coup. The stunned silence turned to murmurs, then open jeering, which was before long drowned by the sound of helicopters circling overhead (summoned by alerted staff inside the building). Upon this, Mishima called out loudly, three times: ‘Long live the Emperor!’ returned to the Commandant’s office, apologized to that officer, knelt down and committed seppuku – ritual suicide by disembowelment. Those who know anything about seppuku will be aware that it is a ritual which must be quite carefully prepared – and it obviously had been. It seems that Mishima knew his harangue would not succeed, and had deliberately engineered his own death. The idea of dying young can be traced in a number of his works. He had posted the perhaps hurried final volume of the tetralogy which began with Spring Snow to his publisher on the morning of that, his last day.
Kobo Abé’s Suna no Onna / The Woman in the Dunes was first published in 1962. It is a strange, bleak tale, a haunting masterpiece starkly told. It begins with city schoolteacher and keen amateur entomologist Niki Jumpei’s three-day excursion to a remote coastal area of Japan – an area which is a vast desert of sand dunes; he is in search of a previously unrecorded species of ‘Tiger Beetle’, and hopes that by finding one it will be named after him and his name published in field manuals. Late on the afternoon of the first day he lies down for a rest and dozes off. He awakes upon the presence of a man standing over him – a villager who informs Niki that he has missed the last bus. Stranded in such a remote location and with evening approaching, he agrees with the villager’s suggestion that he could be locally accommodated by one of them. Following a small party of villagers, he is lowered by rope-ladder to the bottom of a great sand-bowl in which stands a ramshackle hut, it’s sole resident a young widow. She cooks him a meal, after which he requests a bath to rid himself of sand grains. The woman asks, apologetically, if he would mind putting it off until ‘the day after tomorrow’. ‘But I won’t be here the day after tomorrow’, says her guest, with a laugh. From that first meeting, however, their fates are intertwined, and the man’s sojourn with her is to be a long one. Throughout the story, the woman remains unnamed. She is a small, slight person, quiet and passive, with a gentle gracefulness of form and manner. Through all the tension which ensues after that first night’s lodging,, she chooses silence and acquiescence. Excluded are two incidents where she is prepared to physically fight the man, first when her native common sense in the face of danger opposes his foolhardy willfulness and then when her sense of morality, when it is severely threatened, erupts to the fore. In her passivity she is both more sensitive and stronger than the man. Without giving away a situation which is characterized by compulsion, frustration, struggle and acceptance, with small intervals of quiet desire and its fulfillment, in this story the woman is all of primitive existence. She is ‘the force of the feminine: flesh and sex, mother and home’. All is told in simple, evocative prose. In 1964 Abé’s tale was made into a film, beautifully directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara and nominated for two Academy Awards.The part of ‘the woman’ is supremely played by Kyõko Kishida – I cannot imagine better casting. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film which has so faithfully followed a book – in fact I saw the film first, and a question which remained, for me, at its very end, concerning the woman, made me most eager to get hold of the book to see if it was resolved there. I will not say here whether it was or not. Perhaps other readers and film-viewers will be faced with the same question, or it maybe that intuition will have already answered the question for them. But this is a story where it doesn’t matter whether you have read the book first or seen the film. I strongly recommend both. For those who would like to watch the film, it’s freely available on YouTube by going to Suna no Onna – full movie. Black and white, with excellent English subtitles. It’s long – just under two-and-a-half hours; but well worth it. And while we are talking about Japanese movies with an unsettling quality, with a similar remote setting but quite at the other end of the scale for its unquietness is Onibaba, (1964) a highly atmospheric historical, supernatural drama set in the volatile 14th century, and also easily available on YouTube by typing in the Japanese title to get it in black and white with good English subtitles… Quite the horror story, though – the complete opposite to our slowly unfolding, quietly suspenseful The Woman in the Dunes.
Kobo Abé (1924-1993) had an unsettled upbringing. He happened to be born in Tokyo where his father was on temporary secondment to pursue a degree in his profession as doctor of medicine, but returned shortly to Mukden (present-day Shenyang), Manchuria, north-east China. Manchuria was at that time not at all the stablest of environments, being from 1932 to 1945 a puppet pseudo-state of imperialist Japan – ‘Manchukuo’, the ‘Empire of Manchuria’ ostensibly presided over by the unfortunate Pu Yi, the young last Emperor of China’s last dynasty, the Ch’ing / Qin, but whose rulership was always under the strictest Japanese control. (Some of us might recall the award-winning 1987 film,The Last Emperor, with its captivating musical score updated from the traditional Chinese, which tells Pu Yi’s tragic tale). It must have ben an uncertain, uneasy life in Manchukuo, with strife of one kind and another never far away, and this unsettledness during his early years, he later said on interview, contributed to the ‘lack of place’ evident in his writing. In 1943, young Abê attended Tokyo Imperial University, but returned to Manchuria at the end of 1944; this was a particularly bad time, which saw a joint Mongolian-Soviet invasion, and a time during which his father died of typhus, his son returning to Tokyo with his father’s ashes. Abé again took up his studies at the University, where and when he started writing short stories, graduating in 1948. In the meantime he had married Machi Yamada, an artist and stage-director. Together, they lived in a bombed-out area of Tokyo, in an old, disused army barracks. Abé sold pickles and charcoal on the streets in order for the two to live. In the postwar years he joined the Communist Party (Manchuria had ben a hotbed of Communism – it’s been said that ‘almost all of the University graduates from Japan who arrived in Manchukuo in the late 1930s were ‘largely left-wing Socialists and Communists’ ‘). Abé had a long, rough ride with The Party due to his overt criticism, and was eventually, to his satisfaction, expelled. His career gradually prospered, but it was not until the publication of The Woman in the Dunes that he won worldwide recognition.
One short poem, and eleven pages of notes… I hope it was worthwhile, and that I’ve introduced a few viewers to some new stories which they will enjoy.