Mad Wives and Island Dreams: Shimao Toshio and the Margins of Japanese Literature

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Paperback: $22.00 $1.00
ISBN-13: 9780824820893
Published: October 1998

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304 pages
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  • About the Book
  • Hailed by the noted critic Karatani Kojin as a more important and lasting writer than Mishima, Shimao Toshio (1917-1986) remains almost unknown in the West. Several of his short stories have appeared in English translation, yet it is only now, with the publication of Philip Gabriel's comprehensive and searching study, that Shimao's work is being introduced to the worldwide audience it deserves. Mad Wives and Island Dreams not only is a thorough assessment of the literary legacy of a highly original and influential writer, but also represents a significant contribution to the consideration of much broader issues relating to the emergence and nature of the postwar Japanese sense of identity.

    Shimao's fiction covers a wide range of topics: the war and its aftermath, the unconscious, the nuclear family, madness, the position of women, the culture of Japan's southern islands. Shimao's experiences as a survivor of a “kamikaze” unit underscore much of his literature and resulted in a series of compelling short stories unique in modern fiction. Many of these early, critically acclaimed works, including the classic “Everyday Life in a Dream,” are based on the narrative logic of the unconscious. Mad Wives and Island Dreams contextualizes these “dream stories” as a literary expression of wartime trauma and argues that Shimao's powerful narration of guilt and victimization challenges standard readings of Japanese war literature.

    Shimao's most popular works are the byosaimono (literally “stories of a sick wife”), which chronicle the real-life crisis of his wife's madness in the mid-1950s. Among these is the writer's best-known work, the 1977 novel Shi no toge (The sting of death), widely recognized as one of the masterpieces of Japanese literature. The novel further explores Shimao's “literature of the victimizer” and wartime experience while revealing a feminist perspective that explores links between the suppressed aspirations of women and madness. Perhaps, most importantly, just as the novel examines the relationship between the wife, Miho, and her southern island roots, Shi no toge parallels Shimao's growing concern over the culture of marginalized regions and notions of cultural diversity-a concern that would eventually result in the Yaponesia essays.

    In Mad Wives and Island Dreams, Gabriel succeeds in linking all of the seemingly disparate strands within Shimao's oeuvre–the war stories, the byosaimono, the dream stories, the Yaponesia writings-categories all too often discussed in isolation. He shows convincingly that together they represent a consistent and concerted attempt to depict the existence of “the Other,” the significant periphery of a less than homogenous whole. This volume will prove fascinating and important reading for those interested in questions of cultural identity and marginalization as well as Japanese literature and culture.