American Stories / Edition 1

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Nagai Kafu is one of the greatest modern Japanese writers, but until now his classic collection, American Stories, based on his sojourn from Japan to Washington State, Michigan, and New York City in the early years of the twentieth century, has never been available in English. Here, with a detailed and insightful introduction, is an elegant translation of Kafu´s perceptive and lyrical account.Like de Tocqueville a century before, Kafu casts a fresh, keen eye on vibrant and varied America -world fairs, concert halls, and college campuses; saloons, the immigrant underclass, and red-light districts. Many of his vignettes involve encounters with fellow Japanese or Chinese immigrants, some of whom are poorly paid laborers facing daily discrimination. The stories paint a broad landscape of the challenges of American life for the poor, the foreign born, and the disaffected, peopled with crisp individual portraits that reveal the daily disappointments and occasional euphorias of modern life. Translator Mitsuko Iriye´s introduction provides important cultural and biographical background about Kafu´s upbringing in rapidly modernizing Japan, as well as literary context for this collection. In the first story, "Night Talk in a Cabin," three young men sailing from Japan to Seattle each reveal how poor prospects, shattered confidence, or a broken heart has driven him to seek a better life abroad. In "Atop the Hill," the narrator meets a fellow Japanese expatriate at a small midwestern religious college, who slowly reveals his complex reasons for leaving behind his wife in Japan. Caught between the pleasures of America´s cities and the stoicism of its small towns, he wonders if he can ever return home. Kafu plays with the contradictions and complexities of early twentieth-century America, revealing the tawdry, poor, and mundane underside of New York´s glamour in "Ladies of the Night" while celebrating the ingenuity, cosmopolitanism, and freedom of the American city in "Two Days in Chicago." At once sensitive and witty, elegant and gritty, these stories provide a nuanced outsider´s view of the United States and a perfect entrance into modern Japanese literature.

Recipient of the Award for Distinction from The Japan Translators Association

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Editorial Reviews

Stephen Snyder
Nagai Kafu´s American Stories is unquestionably among the most interesting works not only of his career but of Japanese literature in general in the early years of this century. It provides a panoramic view of the American continent through the eyes of an extraordinarily astute outside observer and at the same time paints an intimate portrait of the observer himself and his position between cultures.
J. Thomas Rimer
The American Stories (Amerika monogatari by Nagai Kafu (1879­1959, an early masterpiece by one of the most famous writers of modern Japan, was first published in 1908 and remains one of the most remarkable collections of stories about the United States ever composed by a Japanese writer. Long a classic in Japan, the publication of these stories in English translation is an event of considerable importance, long overdue.
The Globe and Mail
One of the great figures of contemporary Japanese literature.... [This] collection of twenty-three stories and essays is a perceptive outsider's view of American people (particularly the new immigrant classes),places, and customs, and a sharp-eyed tour of the world's fairs, concert halls, college campuses, saloons, and red-light districts of pre-First World War United States.
Books in Canada
Elegant... the language is delicate and many and many images could have been lifted from haiku.... Kafu's work was very sophisticated for its time, and today is eminently readable as entertainment and as the adventures of a young man searching for points of connection between Japan and the West.
Sun Sentinel - John Dolen
In a style that is lean and powerful, this Japanese novelist and short-story writer opens a door to early-1900s America that is riveting, poignant, and painful.... Kafu is brilliant at evoking the strange convocation of two cultures.
Inventive, surprisingly fresh... Kafu's observations are sharp, insightful, and even funny.... American Stories is a strong work, well worth the read.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231117906
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 3/23/2000
  • Series: Modern Asian Literature Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Nagai Kafu (1879-1959) was a Japanese novelist whose translated works include Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale, Autumn Wind and Other Stories, American Stories, and Durgaing the Rains and Flowers in the Shades: Two Novellas.

Mitsuko Iriye is an independent scholar working in the field of comparative literature.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Translator's Introduction
Night Talk in a Cabin 1
A Return Through the Meadow 9
Atop the Hill 18
The Inebriated Beauty 34
Long Hair 45
Spring and Autumn 55
Lodging on a Snowy Night 67
In the Woods 74
Bad Company 81
Old Regrets 93
Rude Awakening 105
Ladies of the Night 119
January First 136
Daybreak 143
Two Days in Chicago 158
The Sea in Summer 171
Midnight at a Bar 182
Fallen Leaves 189
Chronicle of Chinatown 195
Night Stroll 203
A June Night's Dream 210
A Night at Seattle Harbor 228
Night Fog 234
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