- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Counterpoint; 1 edition (Dec 8 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781593761714
- ISBN-13: 978-1593761714
- ASIN: 1593761716
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.4 x 18.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 249 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #4,365,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Shame in the Blood: A Novel Hardcover – Dec 8 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
A young man struggling under his cursed family history marks Japanese author Miura's first work translated into English, an intricately layered if claustrophobic collection of six stories from 1960. Five of the six stories are set in postwar Japan and treat in a chronological jumble a university student narrator's courtship with and marriage to a young Tokyo waitress and his decision not to have children because of the fate of his siblings: the narrator's two older brothers ran off, two sisters committed suicide and several of them were visually impaired, leaving him, the youngest, feeling ashamed and sinful. He marries the cheerful, hardworking waitress Shino, but won't find a job, and despite the money Shino brings in, they descend into penury. Upon the death of his father, the narrator rescinds his decision not to have children, and with Shino pregnant, they return to his family's home in Honshu, hoping for a fresh start. The sixth story involves different characters but similarly treats a husband's hope to start fresh after he learns his wife was raped before marrying him. The five connected stories, despite their erratic time lines, present an intriguing and kaleidoscopic view of a life. (Dec.)
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Generations have passed, times have changed, and it would be interesting to know whether today's twenty- and thirty-something Japanese readers would think so highly of this book. It is easy to suspect not. Regardless whether young Japanese adults today are so heavily influenced by personal or family shame, the same can certainly not be said of Americans, for whom no shame is too great to be publicly aired, You Tubed, wallowed in, exploited for personal gain, and employed as the basis for a heroic (and remunerative) comeback. Western readers, Americans in particular, will find Miura's sentiments regarding inherited shame a peculiarly foreign and restrictive sentiment.
The bulk of SHAME IN THE BLOOD is told by an anonymous narrator, the youngest child of six, three boys and three girls. We learn early on that he feels a deep sense of shame over his siblings: two of them committed suicide, and two disappeared and may now be dead (one of the two absconded with money from the family business). Only the narrator and the youngest of the three sisters, Kayo, are left. However, Kayo is already effectively a spinster, unwanted by suitors because of severe vision impairment. As the youngest child from among such an ill-starred group, the narrator has so convinced himself that the family shame must be inherited trait, "in the blood" as it were, that he fears having children of his own to whom the shame must inevitably be passed.
The young narrator and Shino marry, she eventually becomes pregnant, and their respective fathers die. Throughout, the young couple live in near financial destitution, selling off their few assets - mostly books and furniture - to make ends meet. The narrator struggles in vain to write commercially successfully stories about his family while Shino earns a meager income at home constructing paperboard ice cream cartons. The book's last chapter veers off into the wholly different but loosely parallel story involving another young couple: an unnamed male narrator, his wife Fusako, and their young daughter Momoe. Again, the young couple struggle financially, experience marital strains and medical mishaps, and work their way through Fusako's revelation of a past shame of her own.
SHAME IN THE BLOOD proves to be an odd but effective construction. The first five chapters overlap, creating the initially off-putting and slightly disorienting effect of having the author repeating prior story elements in case the reader has forgotten them. Events mentioned in passing in one chapter become the central of another chapter. The result, faintly similar to a teaching methodology known as spiraling, reinforces the story elements while deepening the reader's understanding of the narrator's life and his relationship with Shino. One is tempted to view all six chapters as six distinct examples of the unnamed narrator's attempt to tell his personal story - five of them in the autobiographical first person, the last through an invented family. Then again, perhaps the final invented family, despite its troubles, are the family he has found, or the one he has dreamed of having, where the trials and tribulations are not so much "in the blood" as they are matters of chance: Fusako's rape, Momoe's injury while being swung around by her father, Fusako's threatened miscarriage when she did not even realize she was pregnant, the fetus's chances of survival rated by the obstetrician as "fifty-fifty."
Miura's story is indeed autobiographical, a reflection of the shameful deaths and disabilities in his own family. Hence, the unnamed author's repeated attempts at telling his family story are presumably to be seen as cathartic. Yet all six chapters maintain a disconcertingly cold and clinical distance from their subjects and their interrelationships. Parental death, a wife's rape, a daughter's injury - all seem little more than a catalog of life events. The characters' collective failure of empathy for one another makes empathy from the reader a near impossibility. By novel's end, Miura's tiny note of hope for the second narrator and his family simply cannot be shared. We have become too indifferent to his characters' lives and shames to care very much one way or the other what becomes of them.