- Ausgekochtes Wunderland: Japanische Literatur lesen
The title of this monograph, which can be translated into English as "Hard-boiled Wonderland: Reading Japanese Literature," plays on the titles of both Murakami Haruki's successful novel and an earlier book on Japanese literature edited by Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit.1 This double allusion suggests, first, that the volume at hand deals mostly with modern and contemporary literature and, second, that it is meant to recall previous works by the author. It soon becomes obvious that both are the case. Prefaced by an introductory chapter on the historical development, important characteristics, and present state of translation of Japanese literature into German, the book contains a collection of previously published book reviews and essays on translations of Japanese literary works. Aimed at a general readership interested in Japan, but doubtlessly helpful for students of Japanese literature as well, the monograph may thus be understood as a selective-yet-thorough guide to the wide spectrum of German translations that have appeared during the past three decades.
Literary translations are, to a degree, indicative of the image that a certain country enjoys in another. Hijiya-Kirschnereit points out that for a long time German interest in Japan appears to have been closely connected to the latter's economic success. During the bubble period, several publishing houses established comprehensive translation series; the 1990 Frankfurt International Book Fair focused on Japan; and excerpts from Japanese literature even found their way into German school textbooks. When Japan entered a long recession in the 1990s, the enthusiasm for its "serious" literature, too, waned somewhat. Instead, products of Japanese popular culture gained unprecedented importance. Today, with translations of manga available in almost any small-scale bookstore, German youth, at least, seems to have wholeheartedly embraced Cool Japan.
The fifteen essays that form the first part of Ausgekochtes Wunderland were originally written as prefaces or afterwords to German translations of modern Japanese literary works, many of which appeared in the "Japanese Library" series of books (Japanische Bibliothek im Insel Verlag, 1993–2001), edited by Hijiya-Kirschnereit.2 While each is designed to introduce one particular piece of literature in more detail, Hijiya-Kirschnereit also contextualizes the text in question within the oeuvre of its author. This essay section is thematically subdivided into four groups, the first of which centers on the two poles of exoticism—frequently discernable in the construction of "Japaneseness," both in Western countries and in Japan itself—and its literary deconstruction. The overall theme of the second group is collective traumata, such as Japan's defeat in 1945 and the horrifying effects of environmental pollution as exemplified [End Page 436] by Minamata disease. Some readers might miss discussions of works dealing with the aftermath of the atomic bombings, even though a number have been translated into German. The omission may be because the essays were first selected and then arranged by theme rather than the themes' having been chosen first. Still, given the literary and cultural importance of the so-called atomic bomb literature (genbaku bungaku), adding a review from this category might have been worth considering. The third group of texts, titled "Journeys through Space and Time," deals with metaphorical as well as actual travels, comprising essays on modern autobiographical texts and a premodern travel diary. The essay section of the monograph concludes with a glimpse into the various "inner worlds" presented by authors as diverse as the I-novelist Dazai Osamu and the contemporary poet Itō Hiromi.
The second part of the monograph contains thirty-six shorter, chronologically arranged book reviews of a wide array of literary translations, ranging from collections of classical poetry to works as recent as Kawakami Hiromi's acclaimed Sensei no kaban (The Teacher's Briefcase, 2001), the German translation of which was published in 2008.
The volume is thus full of erudite detail and compelling assessments of Japanese literary works and their translations. Hijiya-Kirschnereit's motivation for compiling these originally unrelated texts into one book is as simple as it is cogent. While Japan attracts constant interest from...