This collection of book reviews and essays about authors by fellow author Mitsuyo Kakuta was created in much the same vein as her Watashi-tachi ni wa monogatari ga aru (Stories for Us All), and is an excellent companion volume to that work.
In the book world of Japan, fiction usually appears first in the full-sized tankōbon format, usually hardcover, and then two or three years later in compact, pocket paperback editions known as bunkobon. For the latter, it is customary for someone other than the author to provide commentary at the end of the volume, and avid fans will often make a point of owning both editions. The bulk of the essays compiled in the work featured here are commentaries that Kakuta has provided for the bunkobon of other writers.
Indeed, Kakuta is known for the unusually strong interest she takes in the works of her contemporaries. Not infrequently, she will read their books when they first come out, and then reread them several years later in order to write about them and the ways in which her impressions and understanding may have changed over time. In discussing Shōgo Mitsuba’s novel Ensei furēbā (The Flavor of Pessimism), she candidly owns up to having misunderstood the work upon first reading: “Forgive me for thinking it’s an easy mistake to make . . . The fact is, I was 100-percent, absolutely wrong.” She is also forthright about how her reading and assessment of some of her longstanding favorites, such as Yōko Sano (1930?2010), have shifted over the years.
Commenting admiringly on the works of Takeshi Kaikō (1930?89), Kakuta writes “Fiction is not merely about touching some warm place inside us, nor is it a tool for the author’s personal gratification. It should cut to the bone, threaten us, shake us up, stir up our lives, or even swallow us up whole.” Her words surely reflect the credo that underlies her own writings as well.
In all, this beguiling collection of essays offers readers a window on the mind of a leading author whose days are constantly occupied with the question of fiction’s role in our lives.