Earlier on in the year, I spent some happy reading time discovering a new publisher with a very novel method of bringing translated Japanese literature to Anglophone readers. The venture is Red Circle Authors, and I wrote about their ethos and their first three books for Shiny New Books, as well as for the Ramblings.

The works they issue are called the Red Circle Minis; bite-size pieces of new writing by a variety of esteemed Japanese authors, these stories are being published for the first time in English, which is really innovative. I found the first three Minis fascinating; and now RCA have issue two more titles, both of which provide much food for thought, as well as being entertaining reading.

At first glance, the two books seem very dissimilar; one is the tale of a warlord from the past, based on a real historical figure; the other looks to future society and the ravages inflicted on our poor planet and much of its population by those in control. The differing subject matter of these two books really does show the range and variety of Japanese literature, and the admirable willingness of Red Circle Authors to embrace that.

First up, “The Refugees’ Daughter” by Takuji Ichikawa, translated by Emily Balistrieiri (Mini 4). The author is a high-flier in the world of Japanese literature, although his work doesn’t seem readily available in English. “The Refugees’ Daughter” is set in a future time, where society has collapsed, climate change has wrecked the ecosystems, and groups of refugees try to avoid the warring factions and find some place of sanctuary. The daughter of the title, Aimi, is gifted with a way to communicate with those who might help them escape their dystopian landscape; and when she receives a communication which may guide them to a mythical gate, Aimi and her family plus another group must try to escape the soldiers and make their way to safety.

We took such a beautiful planet of water and, in a matter of a hundred years, we turned it into a grimy mud ball.

My somewhat simplistic description belies the depth and compexity of “Refugee…”; tense as it is, this is not just an adventure story. As the group travel, it becomes clear that humanity is almost split into two types: there are the aggressors, those in charge who just want to destroy and control; and those who resist, almost hippie-like and pacifist in tendency, who want a peaceful and fair world. The group discuss their fears, beliefs and ideals as they travel, and it’s hard not to see parallels with our own world; it did seem that the time portrayed in the book is a look forward at what may be the inevitable result of our current state. I sensed threads of criticism of the patriarchal system and celebration of a matriarchal alternative, which was fascinating. There are elements of magic realism in the book, which sit naturally in the story, and it’s actually a very uplifting read.

Hateful words are just like bullets. The media has been at the beck and call of The Complex for ages now. The more hate speech spreads, the more hate grows in people’s hearts. It’s like a zombie virus.

In complete contrast, “The Chronicles of Lord Asunaro” by Kanji Hanawa, translated by Meredith McKinney (Mini 5) looks back to a time when Japan was ruled by powerful warlords. However, the story captures the country in a time of change; although the titular lord inherits a kingdom, he’s as unlike his powerful father as it’s possible to be. He prefers a life of luxury amongst concubines to a samurai-style life; and instead of fighting battles and extending his kingdom, his main achievement seems to be the production of a prodigious amount of children! The story gently critiques not only the heroic tales of warlords of old; it also questions how many of us, if placed in a situation of power like Lord Asunaro, would simply enjoy excess and the luxuries riches and power bring. It’s very entertaining on the surface, yet thought-provoking underneath.

…. this had been a moment when the earth chose to assert itself a little and remind everyone that it is a living being.

I found the two new minis an excellent and contrasting pairing; both authors obviously deserve their high status in the world of Japanese literature, and the stories made excellent, enjoyable and intriguing reading; I kept thinking about both books long after finishing them. I’ve read a reasonable amount of Japanese authors over the years, though fewer modern ones, and it’s a country which has produced some of my favourites; and it’s reassuring to see, from the Red Circle Minis, that Japan is still producing most wonderful writing!

NB I always try to credit the translator in my posts, as I certainly wouldn’t have the breadth of reading I enjoy without them. D’oh – I forget this time, so post amended and thanks to Simon for nudging me by asking who was responsible! 😀