Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Price of Beauty

by Gregg Chadwick

Utagawa Hiroshige (Ando)
Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake (Ohashi Atake no Yudachi)
(#58 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo)
Sheet: 14 3/16" x 9 1/8" woodblock print 9th month of 1857
Brooklyn Museum
Photo Courtesy The Brooklyn Museum

Japanese fiction is a great love of mine. My taste ranges widely from the postmodern antics of Murakami, to the quiet intellectualism of Endo, to the luminous spaces of Kawabata, and to the pent up rage of Mishima. In a culture which traditionally values quietly getting along even when catastrophe strikes, fiction allows a space for readers to wail with those who hurt and lash out at those who would oppress. Japanese novels of mystery and horror provide such a space to ponder the darker recesses of humanity. Mystery writer Keigo Higashino, originally from Osaka and now resident in Tokyo, is currently one of the best selling authors in Japan. Reading "The Devotion of Suspect X" provides understanding of his popularity. Higashino's prose is both quietly poetic and noir like in its straightforwardness.

"The Devotion of Suspect X" is set in 21st century Japan and describes the plight of a single mother with a young daughter as she takes drastic action to escape an abusive, estranged husband. A brilliant math teacher who lives down the hall comes to her aid. Or does he?
From there the story takes off. Make sure you read the book until the very end.

In much Japanese writing, an evocation of place is of utmost importance. This setting creates a mood in which the characters move and interact. The first chapter of "The Devotion of Suspect X" finds us in Tokyo near the Shin-Ohashi bridge, which is memorable for its depiction by the brilliant 19th century Japanese woodcut artist, Ando Hiroshige, in "Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake" (Ohashi Atake no Yudachi) from his One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. A Japanese reader, and those quite familiar with Japan, would likely find Hiroshige's memorable image, of figures huddling under straw umbrellas as they scurry across the bridge in an effort to hide from a driving. slanting rain, pop into their head. I know I did. And this image provided a rich backdrop of life under pressure from time and nature.

I enjoyed "The Devotion of Suspect X" very much and now have a new Japanese author to follow - Keigo Higashino.

More at:
Keigo Higashino
Hiroshige's "Shin-Ohashi Bridge"

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