Friday, 10 June 2016

The Stationmaster by Jiro Asada

The Stationmaster by Jiro Asada
Published in Japanese as Poppoya by Shueisha in 1997. Winner of the 1997 Naoki Prize. Translated by Terry Gallagher and published in English by Viz Media in 2013. Shueisha English language ebook published today, 10th June 2016.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Railways and one of my Top Ten Books of 2016

How I got this book:
Received a preview copy from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'In The Stationmaster, the award-winning Jiro Asada 'revives a time when men lived like true men, proudly fulfilling their responsibilities. People still honored the dignities in life, and lived for those they cared about, in the spirit of samurai. The devotion of these characters to one another is quiet and reserved, not overtly thought of as love, but in a sense it is. So this is a collection of love stories in a samurai way, set in contemporary Japan.'

The Stationmaster is the first in this collection of eight short stories. I was attracted to the book by Norio Kozima's wonderful cover illustration and was then completely blown away by the beauty and elegance of Asada's prose. The title story explores the dignity and pride of an elderly Stationmaster, still dedicated to his role even as the railway line is closing down around him. Love Letter tells of an illegally trafficked Chinese sex worker who, knowing she is dying, writes to the man who married her for money to bring her to Japan, but who she never actually met. A young couple return to the venue that kindled their courtship in the nostalgic Invitation To The Orion Cinema, and a pimp named Santa tries to live up to his name by offering an unexpected kindness on Christmas Eve in No-Good Santa.

I loved every one of these stories. There is a strong sense of traditional and changing Japanese culture through them all, but I had no problem understanding the stories, their undercurrents and meanings. The characters' predicaments are universal with the plots revolving around ordinary people coping with aging, work pressures or fragmenting relationships. As is common in Japanese culture, supernatural characters are often the pivots of these stories and I thought this provided and extra layer of interest, but without the device being used as an easy get out for characters or author! Asada's Instead Of An Afterword is a fascinating glimpse into his real life and I was surprised by which story elements have autobiographical roots - it's not where I expected.

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