Shipwrecks

Shipwrecks
Yoshimura Akira

cover of ShipwrecksFinally, Isaku is 10 and thus considered an adult. He is the oldest son of a poor family in a fishers village where everybody is poor. Income is generated by selling fish – or you sell yourself into servitude, as Isakus father and many other villagers have done. During winter, when the weather is too stormy for fishing, salt is produced over large fires on the beach. This is done chiefly at night, in the hope that an Ofune-sama will arrive, a ship stranded on the sharp rocks, a special gift from the gods to support the villagers. One night, an Ofune-sama does arrive, but instead of the expected rice, the ship only carries dead people, dressed in expensive red garments. Is this Ofune-sama a blessing like the others, or a curse after all?

We follow Isaku through several years, while he tells the story of the village, his poor family and relations. We hear of his pride when charged with maintaining the salt fires at night, his relief when finally learning the intricate ways of catching saury, his plans for marrying the young Tami, and his grief at the death of his baby sister. The most exciting event in his life is the arrival of the Ofune-sama, it brings changes beyond his wildest dreams.

Would the book only describe the struggle of the villagers, it were uninteresting, too often have we read about such things, we only need to turn on the TV for a modern take on the issue. But here, the Ofune-sama add another level, a level of deliberate deceit and cold hearted efficiency, which draws the villagers into a web of guilt they do not notice until the price they are forced to pay becomes too high.

Akira Yoshimura, born in 1927, was a Japanese author who wrote more than 20 novels, some of which won prestigious Japanese literature prizes over the years. As a weakly child, he could start university only when he was 23. He quickly became the head of the literary circle there, where he met the group of Yukio Mishima. He published his first novel in 1958, and his life achievements for Japanese literature were crowned with the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun in 2006, the year of his death.

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