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Shipwrecks: A Novel

Shipwrecks: A Novel

4.3 4
by Akira Yoshimura, Mark Ealey (Translator)

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Isaku is a nine-year-old boy living in a remote, desperately poor fishing village on the coast of Japan. His people catch barely enough fish to live on, and so must distill salt to sell to neighboring villages. But this industry serves another, more sinister purpose: the fires of the salt cauldrons lure passing ships toward the shore and onto rocky shoals. When


Isaku is a nine-year-old boy living in a remote, desperately poor fishing village on the coast of Japan. His people catch barely enough fish to live on, and so must distill salt to sell to neighboring villages. But this industry serves another, more sinister purpose: the fires of the salt cauldrons lure passing ships toward the shore and onto rocky shoals. When a ship runs aground, the villagers slaughter the crew and loot the cargo for rice, wine, and rich delicacies. One day a ship founders on the rocks. But Isaku learns that its cargo is far deadlier than could ever be imagined. Shipwrecks, the first novel by the great Japanese writer Yoshimura to be translated into English, is a stunningly powerful, Gothic tale of fate and retribution.

Editorial Reviews

Janet St. John
Yoshimura's first novel translated into English is almost a mythical tale of a poor Japanese village whose fathers sell themselves into bondage to support their families and whose tradition of celebrating "o-fume-sama" (shipwrecks) is a dark secret of murder and looting. Isaku, the nine-year-old main character, learns that the cauldrons that distill salt from seawater burn on the beaches for more than village income; they are intentional traps meant to lure passing vessels aground on their rocky coast. The "o-fume-sama" are awaited and ritualized each year with everyone's participation. One year, however, the spoils of the villagers' trap are fatal to their village. Isaku learns a hard, bitter truth as Yoshimura seems to teach a lesson through this book, both about the ugly parts of history and about how people participate in, condone without thought of consequences, ritualize, and justify heinous and desperate acts. Ealey's accessible and graceful translation adds to the power of Yoshimura's tale.
Kirkus Reviews
The first English translation of a veteran Japanese writer who is president of his country's writers' union and the author of 20 novels.

This 1982 work, set in a coastal village in medieval Japan, recounts the hurried journey toward manhood taken by its protagonist, nine-year-old Isaku. In their impoverished village close by the sea, Isaku's family and neighbors carry on a long- accepted tradition: They distill salt from sea water to sell to other villages—and they live in the hope that the flames beneath the boiling cauldrons placed near the shore will lure passing ships onto the nearby rocks, thereafter to be looted and plundered. "O- fune-sama" (their term for this illicit bounty) occurs only infrequently until one winter when, after an unexpectedly short interval, a mysterious ship is found drifting near shore, all of its dead passengers dressed in red clothing and disfigured by red spots on their bodies. The villagers strip them of their garments and possessions—and retribution proves as swift as it is terrible. This disturbing fable resonates with mystery, its events seen through the puzzled eyes of young Isaku, who is just beginning to intuit the imperatives of sexuality and to shoulder his burden as the man of his family, since his father, who has sold himself into indentured servitude in a distant village, is usually absent. The novel's structure works beautifully: Its first two thirds, virtually plotless, offer a vivid portrait of Isaku's fascination with local folkways and superstitions; thereafter, things happen with momentous inevitability, climaxing when those who have been punished most grievously for the community's sins must suffer the additional ordeal of banishment. Isaku's father returns home to a family changed beyond anything he can imagine.

A seamless interweaving of description, characterization, and narrative, and an enduringly powerful image of a vanished time and place. More, please, of Yoshimura.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.54(h) x 0.83(d)

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Shipwrecks 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
A slow, but increasingly sinister and gothic coming of age story, set in medieval Japanese fishing village on the edge of starvation. Part of the pleasure of the book is in details of daily life in this strange, bleak fishing village were they must to eke out a meager subsistence from the sea. How they catch fish, collect bark to make clothes and burry their dead. The sea cannot sustain the village and they survive by luring cargo boats to crash of their rocky shores, killing the sailors and distributing the bounty. Then there is enough food and no one has to be sold into indentured servitude. This is how the village has survived for centuries. One day a sinister cargo arrives on a ghostly ship and brining deadly retribution. A beautiful moving gothic story about fate.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Shipwrecks' is a classic in the making. This book will move you and dissapoint you by the realism of life that occurs in this novel. An old Japenese tradition that makes life bearable to the residents of this poor community also brings about horrors only imaginable to the men and women that have ever defeated any foe. Brillantly written and very fast-paced, this book will show you how difficult life is in a household that bears no father, a strict mother, and competition between the residents. This book is the for the first time in English, and it is a honor that we are able to read this masterpiece. Read this book for a religious experience, adventure, romance, heart-break, and a little touch of the old ways. If not for these reasons, read it for a closer look into humanity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Languid, beautifully ascetic prose tells the story of a young boy¿s coming of age in an extremely poor fishing village on the medieval Japanese coastline. Isaku [9] is primed to take over as head of the household after his father sells himself into indentured servitude in a neighboring village. This wonderfully crafted snapshot of an ancient lifestyle tells of his slowly developing fishing techniques, his interaction with his mother and siblings, and his later attempts at wooing a village girl. Surviving always on the brink of starvation, the village has for centuries employed a technique of luring and beaching passing ships to supplement their staples. Once the ships have had their bottoms ripped by the rocks, the villagers kill the remaining crew and dismantle and disseminate the ship skeleton and its cargo [rice, wine, sugar, etc.]. One good size `haul¿ of this type would last a family many years. Like the reader, Isaku is gradually introduced to the various methodologies employed in the creation of the salt fires which lure the ships during stormy nights. The novel spans the three years of the fathers servitude and presents the unvarying, but vitally important changes of the season which bring their own seafood type and technique for capture. This translation¿s writing matches the sparseness of the village, presenting itself with the stark beauty of a crashing Japanese reef. One certainly gets lost in the wonderful descriptions of this far-away time and place. Conflict arrives at the hind end of this novel in a whirlwind conclusion, the abrupt finality mirroring anguish and despondency in the reader as well as Isaku. A very intriguing and recommended read.