Momotarō, Click-Clack Mountain, The Sparrow Who Lost Her Tongue, The Stolen Wen, Urashima-san . . . The father reads these old tales to the children. Though he's shabbily dressed and looks to be a complete fool, this father is a singular man in his own right. He has an unusual knack for making up stories.
Once upon a time, long, long ago . . .
Even as he reads the picture book aloud in a strangely imbecilic voice, another, somewhat more elaborate tale is brewing inside him.
Dazai Osamu wrote The Fairy Tale Book (Otogizoshi) in the last months of the Pacific War. The traditional tales upon which Dazai's retellings are based are well known to every Japanese schoolchild, but this is no children's book. In Dazai's hands such stock characters as the kindhearted Oji-san to Oba-san ("Grandmother and Grandfather"), the mischievous tanuki badger, the fearsome Oni ogres, the greedy old man, the "tongue-cut" sparrow, and of course Urashima Taro (the Japanese Rip van Winkle) become complex individuals facing difficult and nuanced moral dilemmas. The resulting stories are thought-provoking, slyly subversive, and often hilarious.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have no problem with the stories. In fact, I found this book to be a delightful read. (Delightful? I can't believe I keep using these words for Japanese fiction. Only they fit). I found the author's reworking of the characters to be both clever and insightful, especially when you consider that he is supposedly huddled up in a wartime bunker while composing these tales. But I do have a problem with the translation. I have not read the Japanese version, but I imagine the translator was simply trying to mimic a folksy style in the original. So far, so good. But he overdoes it, to the extent that it no longer reads like Japanese but like an only modestly talented British writer trying to imitate Japanese. Perhaps it's just me, but much of the dialogue in this book seems like it could be seamlessly incorporated into a work like, say, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Translators beware: Colloquialisms in one language do not necessarily come off well as colloquialisms in another...
I've heard some of these fairy tales before. It was interesting reading the narrator's circumstances and attitudes about his versions.
This book is well written and entertaining.
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