Akira Yoshimura was born in 1927. He is the prize-winning, best-selling author of twenty novels and collections of short stories. He is the president of Japan's writer's union and a member of International PEN.
Yoshimura's resonant reconstruction of the poverty-stricken life in a medieval Japanese fishing village is the first of his 20 novels to be translated into English. Nine-year-old Isaku's humble existence is defined by personal habit and village ritual. While his father is indentured for three years, Isaku grows from an uninformed innocent to a 12-year-old seasoned by brutality and tragedy. Living on the border of starvation, villagers depend on such cyclical catches as squid, octopus and sardine. They collect linden bark for kindling and thread. They also depend on the O-fune-sama, annual winter sailing ships lured by the fires from salt cauldrons burning on the shores. When a ship runs aground on the reef, the villagers habitually slaughter the crew and live off bales of rice and other cargo. One O-fune-sama, however, spells doom. Its crew's secret booty is smallpox. Uncompromising details of the plague lead to a melancholy conclusion when the infected chief decrees mountain banishment for all who carry the disease, including Isaku's mother, brother and his first love. Isaku, his life changed irrevocably, is left alone to endure a bittersweet reunion with his father. Yoshimura's lean novel gracefully recounts the daily struggles of impoverished people to retain-and even create-their humanity under conditions in which mere survival is an achievement. (June)
* a haunting and beautifully rendered tale of enduring optimism. The Herald * Yoshimura's chronicle of pre-industrial Japan is economically told. It has an austerity that gives Isaku's matter-of-fact narrative the universality of folklore, but with a haunting other-worldliness. The Guardian * It has all the turbulent power of the sea that dominates the narrative, and the haunting fatefulness of the ways of nature and myth which dominate the book's themes. The Scotsman * Set against this tapestry of near-nihilistic misery, Yoshimura's chiaroscuro touches of hope and love hint at something more profound. Times Literary Supplement * A laconic, exquisitely paced story. Sunday Times