In her afterword to this collection of book reviews and other essays she has written about writers, author Mitsuyo Kakuta writes of her own literary debut. Winning a new-writer prize at age 23, she quickly realized that if she wanted to make a living by writing novels, she would also have to make a concerted effort to read more of them. She vowed that she would never turn down a job request that entailed reading something and writing about it. She has held herself to that pledge, and this compiled work represents a portion of that creative output. The lion’s share of the works Kakuta addresses herein are novels by contemporary Japanese authors, although some nonfiction, foreign fiction, and classics are scattered among them.
A refreshing personal candor stands out in Kakuta’s writing. For example, in taking up The Dancing Girl of Izu (also translated as The Izu Dancer) by Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata (1899?1972), she remarks that she didn’t think much of the work when she first read it as a teenager, but when she reread it while traveling in Sri Lanka 15 years later, at a certain point in the story she “was brought up short as if a bucket of cold water had been poured over my head.” In writing about Richard Brautigan’s An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey, she says, “It’s a novel by a writer who died nearly twenty years ago, written even longer ago still. Yet the sheer freshness of his words, and the warmth they radiate, are still very much alive.”
Quick and deft with her words of praise, Kakuta also stands firm to certain standards of expectation. Reviewing At the Owl Woman Saloon by Tess Gallagher, she acknowledges, “For me, a good short story is one in which you come to the last line and all of a sudden you feel as if an entire unknown world has been opened up before you. It leaves a profound and lingering feeling of suggestion.”
An excellent tour guide, Kakuta ably leads us through an inviting realm of undiscovered books. Every piece will have you wanting to pick up and read the work she discusses without delay.