Shipwrecks

Akira Yoshimura

translated from the Japanese by Mark Ealey
Harcourt 2000 [1982]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2007 http://dannyreviews.com/
A portrait of a poor coastal village in medieval Japan, Shipwrecks offers more ethnographic detail than action. Isaku's father has sold himself into debt-bondage, so though only nine years old he has to learn the skills of an adult to help his mother support the family. Meanwhile, he and his fellow villagers hope for the rare O-fune-sama, the shipwrecks which mean the difference between bare subsistence and temporary security — and which they lure by burning the fires under their salt cauldrons at night. The first Isaku experiences is a bountiful rice ship, but the second is a plague ship which brings destruction to the village.

Shipwrecks is a coming-of-age story, but one with no psychological development or tension. Instead it describes, through Isaku's eyes, the techniques of fishing, salt-making, bark collection, and so forth, the rituals of festivals, funerals, ceremonies, and the everyday life of the village. This makes Shipwrecks easy to read and surprisingly upbeat given its bleak ending: it is a straightforward story told in a simple, limpid style.

January 2007

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Related reviews:
- books about Japan + Japanese history
- more Japanese literature
- more ethnographic fiction
- more historical fiction
%T Shipwrecks
%A Yoshimura, Akira
%M Japanese
%F Ealey, Mark
%I Harcourt
%D 2000 [1982]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0156008351
%P 180pp