Paperback, 140 pages
Published August 14th 2014 by Pushkin Press
This was my first Yasushi Inoue title but it will definitely not be my last. Life of a Counterfeiter is a collection of three short stories including the titular story, “Reeds,” and “Mr. Goodall’s Gloves.” All three stories are excellent and go a long way in establishing the kind of storyteller Mr. Inoue is. There is a certain stream of consciousness-esque element to these stories that I really liked. In Life of a Counterfeiter the main character is supposed to be a biographer of a famous painter Onuki Keigaku but while researching Keigaku, the narrator comes across Keigaku’s former friend Hara Hosen who he discovers is a counterfeiter of Keigaku’s works. The narrator is unwillingly fascinated by this counterfeiter and exerts considerable effort to find out more about him, driven perhaps by more than just curiousity about this counterfeiter. He feels an empathy for Hosen, the counterfeiter, inferring that Hosen’s brush with Keigaku’s genius may be what propelled the man down such a dark lane and then to his tragic end. The story is told in anecdotal bursts and the narrator relays his findings while he goes around living his life and surviving the war that Japan is in the middle of losing at the time. I could well imagine myself seated in a cafe or some such place listening to the story. The tone is welcoming, a bit self-deprecatory, and entirely wonderful. The other two stories continue much in the same vein.
In “Reeds” the same narrator talks about fragments of memories a person has that is usually matched with the fragment of memory someone else has and illustrates his point by elaborating in some detail his memories about his grandmother, and a couple he remembers from when he was very young but whom he can’t identify. “Mr. Goodall’s Gloves” concerns the same narrator’s grandmother, who was a mistress of his grandfather and not his true wife, and her interaction with a foreigner, Mr. Goodall, who gave her his gloves when she was left outside in the cold to wait for his grandfather. The stories concern the human condition and are characterized by the gentleness that I have come to associate with Japanese literature. Michael Emmerich’s translation is superlative and there is never an instance where I felt that anything was lost in translation.
If you enjoy Murakami, you will enjoy Yasushi Inoue. Though Inoue’s work does not have elements of magical realism that Murakami’s is famous for, it has the same vibrancy and earnestness that make Murakami’s work so fantastic. Strongly recommended.