The seven stories collected here span the range of Kenji Nakagami's writing. He draws on the history of his birthplace, Kumano in his tales of red-eyed demons, mountain bandits and ravaged princesses. Stories with a more modern setting describe the turbulent lives of the Kumano people.
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Kenji Nakagami was born in 1946 in Shingu, a coastal town in the Kumano region of eastern Japan. His parents belonged to a class of social outcasts, and he was raised within an ever-changing family circle of stepfathers, stepbrothers and half sisters. His teenage years were overshadowed by the suicide of his older brother. At nineteen he traveled to Tokyo where he started to publish short stories and reviews, supporting himself with a series of manual labor jobs. The first of his works to make an impact was Misaki ("The Cape"), a highly charged account of life in the Shingu ghetto. In 1977 he firmly established his reputation with Karekinada ("The Sea of Dead Trees"), which was widely hailed as a masterpiece. He later returned to Kumano and worked tirelessly to promote the arts and folklore of Kumano and to restore pride in its oppressed minority. His prolific output included the short-story collections Juryoku no miyako ("Gravity's Capital," 1981), Kumano-shu ("The Kumano Collection," 1982) and the novels Kiseki ("Miracles," 1988) and Sanka ("Paean," 1989). Kenji Nakagami died in 1992, aged forty-six.
The Translator: Andrew Rankin, an Englishman, studied at the universities of Cambridge, London and Tokyo and lived in Japan for eight years.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A solitary kite circled above. There was no sound.
"Right, let's get going," he said.
The man refused to move. The cicadas started to rasp. The man's left eye was blind, his left leg lame. He let out an anguished cry.
Leave me here. Here, sitting in the grass, motionless. Wounds fester and the body grows feverish. Every brush of the wind is agony. Then life ends. The body rots. The crows flock around the corpse. They pluck out the eyes and rip the belly and peck at the flesh. Then they vanish into the sky.
He helped the man to his feet. He set off again, taking the man's weight on his shoulder. But it wasn't him who was walking now: it was one red, shapeless, squirming thing helping another piece of wounded, squirming flesh.
He thought of nothing. He felt nothing.
They made their way down along the line of the cliffs, climbing over damp, mossy rocks and following the faded traces of the mountain path. Now the man seemed almost weightless. The sounds of human breathing had multiplied.
He heard a huge number of them, all panting and wheezing, hundreds of pieces of living flesh moving together, the fit assisting the wounded. They were behind him, too. He could hear them all.
The man moaned.
They descended a slope and were soon engulfed by trees again. There was no light. The sun seemed to have been swallowed up by the sky.
Suddenly the man burst into tears.
"Kill me, kill me here!" he cried. "I beg you, kill me!" His voice quavered like a broken flute. "I don't know who you are, sir. But I'm blind and lame. Strangle me, bash my head against a tree, crush my skull with a stone, but for god's sake kill me!"
He set the man down at the foot of a cedar with his back resting against the trunk and tried to calm him. The man extended his sickly-colored left leg, bent his right knee, curled up like a spring and struck the back of his head hard against the tree trunk. Then he tried to turn himself about on his knees, but lost his balance and fell over sideways.
"Look at me, I can't even die by myself," he wailed, opening his mouth wide. All his lower teeth were missing.
"Who gave you these wounds?" he asked.
But the man made no reply. He lay on his side and covered his face with his hands to stifle his tears. Had one of the villagers attacked him? Or were his injuries sustained in some ancient battle? Could he be the spirit of some warrior of old, vanquished in battle? He didn't know what to think. He still wasn't sure whether the man was real or imaginary.
If the man had been defeated, then so had he.
If the man had suffered, then so had he.
The big man's cries echoed through the mountains, the volume magnified many times over. Each of these mountains resounded with the voice of this vanquished, one-eyed, one-legged man who was incapable of taking his own life.
He sensed his own body responding to the sound like a musical instrument. He sat down beside him, leaned back against the tree, and listened.
To the treetops quivering and rustling.
To the grasses, drooping from lack of sunlight, shivering in sympathy.
To the cicadas joining in, weeping together.
The whole landscape weeping with him.
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Book Description Kodansha International (JPN), 1999. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P114770023545
Book Description Kodansha Amer Inc, 1999. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M4770023545