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  • Found in Translation
  • Terry Hong (bio)
Yasushi Inoue
Michael Emmerich, trans.
Pushkin Press
128 Pages; Print, $18
The Hunting Gun
Yasushi Inoue
Michael Emmerich, trans.
Pushkin Press
112 Pages; Print, $16
Life of a Counterfeiter
Yasushi Inoue
Michael Emmerich, trans.
Pushkin Press
144 Pages; Print; $18

For a nation of immigrants, our literary preferences surely seem to lean toward xenophobic. Among American presses, translated titles make up a mere 3% of published titles. The statistics aren’t too different in the United Kingdom: “Some call it the two percent problem, others the three percent problem,” according to a September 2014 BBC article; “Why won’t English speakers read books in translation?” Whatever the exact paltry number, the bottom line is this:

English-language publishers have a lamentable track record when it comes to translating great stories from elsewhere in the world.

Sometimes, it takes an international village to put noteworthy titles onto Stateside shelves. In the case of the late Yasushi Inoue, one of Japan’s literary national treasures, London’s indie house Pushkin Press leads the charge. Founded in 1997, some 90% of Pushkin’s titles originated in languages other than English. Since 2013, Pushkin has introduced a new Inoue title each year, an annual event that will hopefully continue for decades. Inoue, whose first book debuted at 42, passed away in 1991 at 83 after publishing some fifty novels and 150 short stories. Although a few Inoue titles-in-English have previously been published, Pushkin’s latest releases are a result of quite the laudable team, including Michael Emmerich—scholar and translator of such diverse Japanese icons as Yasunari Kawabata and Banana Yoshimoto—and illustrator/designer Ping Zhu whose crisply detailed black-and-white drawings capture just the right complementary images. The three Inoue titles (thus far) sport distinctive covers in saturated, solid colors on subtly textured stock, invitingly sized to fit both pockets and hands.

Beyond impeccable aesthetics, the stories prove even more exceptional. Inoue, a former journalist, became a published author in 1949 with two novellas, The Hunting Gun and Bullfight. The latter won the Akutagawa Prize, one of Japan’s top honors; his many subsequent awards included the Order of Cultural Merit, the highest artistic recognition bestowed by the Japanese government.

Pushkin rightfully chose Bullfight to introduce their Inoue titles Stateside in December 2013. Like Inoue, the protagonist here is a newspaper man. Tsugami is the editor-in-chief of the Osaka New Evening Post, founded in December 1945, mere months after Japan’s spectacular defeat in World War II. One year later, Tsugami lives separated from his wife and children, having sent them to the safety of his hometown to escape the too-recent war bombs; he has, instead, a mistress, the widow of a college friend “whose bones had not yet come home” from war. As 1946 draws to a close, Tsugami’s relationships, as well as his paper, are struggling—as is the rest of the devastated country.

In spite of potentially dire straits, Tsugami decides the paper will sponsor an unprecedented three-day bullfight requiring the transport of twenty-two bulls from Shikoku Island to Osaka. The bulls fight one another instead of a matador; spectators are invited to place bets on the winning beast. “This was a gamble on whose success the future of the company depended.” Inoue’s spare, tense novella tracks Tsugami during the weeks before the showdown, as he relies on Tashiro—“a showman”—to work out the event’s logistics. Bombed-out streets and cities, curtailed transportation, limited access to feed, fuel Tsugami’s desperation, but he recklessly moves forward with his bullish plans.

After Bullfight, Pushkin reversed the original order of Inoue’s first two novellas, and released The Hunting Gun Stateside in September 2014. Inoue opens Gun with a narrative frame—as if to create distance from difficult topics and experiences. Inoue repeats this story-within-a-story device in each of the remaining titles discussed here. Gun’s narrator is a sometime poet who reluctantly submits...


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pp. 27-28
Launched on MUSE
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