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Modern Japanese novelists : a biographical dictionary /

Main Author: Lewell, John.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York ; Tokyo : Kodansha International, 1993
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Review by Choice Review

Lewell's book is accessible to general readers. Although not a Japanese studies scholar by profession, and hence basing his research mostly on English translations, he demonstrates great sensibility and appreciation through his fresh and often insightful interpretations, free from the pretensions of contemporary literary criticism, of the major works of modern Japanese fiction from 1885 to the present. This first reference source with comprehensive coverage of the major writers of modern Japanese fiction, includes 57 authors, offering essays that provide not only sketches of personal background and emergence in the literary scene, but also insightful analysis of their major achievements. Also included in each entry are sections of recommended reading, works in English translation, and critical studies. This book would be more valuable, however, if more up-to-date scholarship were included in the bibliographies. A useful addition to academic reference collections. M. Meng; St. John's University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

Fifty-seven writers are profiled in this biographical dictionary. The oldest writer represented, Shoyo Tsubouchi, was born in 1859, while the youngest, Yuko Tsushima, was born in 1947. Author Lewell freely admits in his introduction that his knowledge of Japanese is limited. The emphasis here, therefore, is on Japanese literature available in English translation. Entries are arranged alphabetically with the family name first, as in Mishima Yukio, in observance of traditional Japanese name order. Each entry is accompanied by a small black-and-white photograph and begins with a brief summary of biographical facts followed by a critical essay surveying the writer's life and work. The longer essays, such as that for Mishima, are up to 20 pages in length. Following the essay is a fairly extensive bibliography that includes recommended reading from among the writer's works (lists of novels, short fiction, poetry, plays, and other works in English translation) and critical studies. The volume concludes with a glossary of some of the terms and names found in the essays, such as Floating World, Showa Period, and Tale of Genji. There is no index. A number of the writers found here, such as Mishima, Junichiro Tanizaki, and Kobo Abe, will be familiar to Western readers, but many more are not. Some readers may be disappointed by the lack of inclusion of more contemporary authors, such as Kazuo Ishiguro, author of The Remains of the Day. More information in the introduction about how the "modern" period of Japanese literature is defined would have been helpful. Information on many of the novelists profiled here can be found in other sources. Nearly half of the writers have entries in one or more of the Gale sets. There are entries for Kobo Abe, for example, in Contemporary Authors and Contemporary Literary Criticism, as well as in World Authors, 1950-1970, and in Magill's Masterplots II and Critical Survey of Long Fiction Foreign Language Series. Of these, Contemporary Authors has the only comparable bibliography, though Lewell provides separate citations for Abe's short stories. The list of secondary sources in Contemporary Authors consists primarily of book reviews, while Lewell provides citations for articles in scholarly journals. Lewell also has the advantage of currency, giving information on Abe's most recent translated work, the short story collection Beyond the Curve (1991), and also noting his death earlier this year. Because of its currency, bibliographies, and inclusion of less familiar writers, Modern Japanese Novelists is recommended as a useful introduction for high school, college, and public libraries. (Reviewed Nov. 1, 1993)

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.