Yasushi Inoue was one of Japan's most beloved writers. In his life he won many of the country's top literary prizes and saw his books make homes on millions of bookshelves. His love of legend and his ability to mine life-altering tales from the contemporary craziness going on in human nature throughout his lifetime (he died in 1991) make him the literary grandfather of Japan's Banana Yoshimoto, clearly the heir apparent of his legacy. THE COUNTERFEITER AND OTHER STORIES gathers some particular gems and introduces his work to a whole new generation in a new language.
The title story is a wonderful consideration of the real heart of creation: a writer who is supposed to be working on the biography of a famous painting becomes intrigued and then obsessed with the man who produced remarkable forgeries of the painter's work. It is just the type of thing that Inoue enjoys --- that contemporary bent towards fakery and how sometimes it can become more real than the "real thing." Inoue's gentle touch, his first person narrative bringing us closer to the story, makes THE COUNTERFEITER a fun read --- using the stilted language of fairy tales, his "once upon a time" straightforwardly presents his legends without daunting the fascinating truths that lie beneath his simple words.
In "The Full Moon," he pairs a geisha and a straight-lining businessman for the night of their life and makes it like no other "awakening" story you've ever read. "Obasute" tells the story of a man obsessed by the legend of a woman abandoned in the mountains by her family and the ways in which it alters how he views the actions of his own family in light of it. Truth and fiction combine in the lives of Inoue's characters, and they always seem to be floating on the ether between dimensions --- the reader finds themselves in a hybrid, almost psychadelic world of feeling and emotion, caught up in the daily activities of everyday people. There is life beneath the surface of each hard-crusted, long-told tale, and Inoue uses all the pathos of his art to examine the life of his countrymen from all sides.
Inoue's work draws you in so quickly that you barely know what has happened to the time as you read. If you start this one at the beach, in the middle of a perfect summer's day, you may awake from it to find that you are the only person on the sand as the sun is setting. A perfect book, a perfect way to spend some premium reading hours.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on November 1, 2000
The Counterfeiter: And Other Stories