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  • Kannani and Document of Flames: Two Japanese Colonial Novels
  • Nobuko Miyama Ochner
Kannani and Document of Flames: Two Japanese Colonial Novels. By Katsuei Yuasa. Translated and with an introduction by Mark Driscoll. Duke University Press, 2005. 208 pages. Hardcover $69.95; softcover $19.95.

The greatest contribution this volume makes to the field of Japanese studies is to introduce English-language readers to a little-known Japanese novelist, Yuasa Katsuei (actually Katsue, 1910-1982), who depicted colonial Korea of the 1930s and 1940s. Yuasa knew Korea intimately, having grown up there from age six to seventeen, when he left for Tokyo for further schooling. He considered Korea his furusato, visiting frequently, [End Page 428] and even moving back with his family in 1944; only when the Pacific War ended in 1945 did he return to Japan. The two novels by Yuasa translated here, Kannani (1934) and Document of Flames (Homura no kiroku; 1935), provide vivid pictures of the daily life of ordinary people in a colonial setting. Together with his translations of the two novels, Mark Driscoll provides a substantial introduction to Yuasa's background, his literary career, and the position of the two works in Yuasa's oeuvre. In line with the assessment of Ikeda Hiroshi, editor of the 1995 edition of Yuasa's works on colonial Korea, Driscoll "situate[s] these two novels in the genre of proletarian realism and the 'I-novel' (shishōsetsu)" (p. 14). Following the translations, a conclusion treats the larger issue of what Driscoll calls "postcoloniality in reverse."

In his introduction, Driscoll first describes in some detail two of Yuasa's works dating from the 1940s, Aoi chokori (Blue Jumper) and Ōryokkō (The Yalu River). He does so to emphasize the apparent shift in Yuasa's treatment of colonial Korea-from early sympathy for the colonized Koreans, as expressed in Kannani and Document of Flames, to later support of Japanese colonial policy, seen in the two novels from the 1940s. Through this strategy, Driscoll points out both the uniqueness of the two translated novels and the process of tenkō, or ideological reorientation, experienced by many Japanese literary and intellectual figures of the time. Noting certain qualities already present in Yuasa's early works, Driscoll argues that coercion by the authorities was not the only factor in Yuasa's tenkō.

Driscoll uses the term "postcoloniality" to refer to the state of having moved from monocultural, monolingual, ethnoracial homogeneity (coloniality) to a transcultural, transnational hybridity, in a linear historical movement. The notion of such a movement derives from the Euro-American model; however, Driscoll holds, it was reversed in the case of Japan's colonization of East Asia. In his words, "the historical trajectory in East Asia can be said to begin with multicultural postcoloniality in the period of Japan's colonial imperial rule and end with an ethnoracially homogenized cultural nationalism" (p. 23, emphasis in the original). He regards Yuasa as a case of such "postcoloniality in reverse," since Yuasa's stories shifted from the multicultural multilingual, hybridity of Kannani to the monocultural homogeneity of the 1940s novels.

"Postcoloniality in reverse" sounds intriguing and sophisticated. One might ask, however, how it differs from colonial assimilation in the case of Korea of the 1930s-1940s. The deletion/erasure of history after the fact is not the same as being carried along by the current of the time in its multifarious and complex reality. Although Yuasa's postwar forgetting of his shift might be regarded as "postcoloniality in reverse," I wonder if his prewar literary activity could really be labeled as such.

Kannani is narrated in the third-person limited perspective of Ryūji, a Japanese boy in the fifth grade of elementary school, who has moved to Korea with his parents because of his father's new job as a policeman in the colony. The core of the story is his friendship with a Korean girl called Kannani, whose family are employees in the estate of the Korean aristocrat whom Ryūji's father also serves. The time frame is historically specific: from the summer of 1918 to early March, 1919, when the Korean Independence Movement took place. In the course of the...


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