Marshland

Marshland

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By Otohiko Kaga
Translated by Albert Novick

ISBN: 9781628974041

Publication Date: 4/23/2024

Otohiko Kaga’s Marshland is an epic novel on a Tolstoyan scale, running from the pre-World War II period to the turbulence of 1960s Japan. At forty-nine, Atsuo Yukimori is a humble auto mechanic living an almost penitentially quiet life in Tokyo, where his coworkers know something of his military record but nothing of his postwar criminal past. Out of curiosity he accompanies his nephew to a demonstration at a nearby university, and is gradually drawn into a friendship, then a romance, with Wakaka Ikéhata, the brilliant but mentally unstable daughter of a university professor. As some of the student radical groups turn to violence and terrorism, Atsuo and Wakaka find themselves framed for the lethal bombing of a Tokyo train.

During their long imprisonment the novel becomes a Kafkaesque procedural, revealing the corrupt intricacies of the police and judicial system of Japan. At the end of their hard pilgrimage to exoneration, Atsuo and Wakaka are finally able to return to his original hometown, Nemuro, on the eastern-most peninsula of Hokkaido island. Here is the marshland of the title, a remote and virtually unspoiled region of Japan where Kaga sets a large number of extraordinarily beautiful pastoral scenes.

Marshland is a revelation of modern Japanese history and culture, a major novel from the hand of a master well-known in his own country, but virtually unheard-of—so far—in the United States and Anglophone world in general.

Reviews

“The result of Kaga’s effort is a sprawling indictment of modern society’s modes of organizing bodies and labor…Here’s where the novel’s length works well, as the repetition of experiences with institutionalization becomes analogous to the repetitive nature of the experiences themselves. Kaga’s examination of the lives of dozens of prisoners, characters both major and minor in his sweeping drama, is some of the most powerful and compassionate writing of the novel. His criticism of the criminal justice system of mid-century Japan could just as well have been written about the United States today, and Anglophone readers interested in the subject will find Kaga’s work here highly rewarding, though it is quite divorced from the racial conditions that underlie the prison-industrial complex in the United States…Readers interested in a brilliant, high-definition portrait of postwar Japan will find little to compare to this that is readily available in the English language.” —Jack Rockwell, Words Without Borders

Biographical Information

Otohiko Kaga (1929-), one of Japan's few Christian writers, is also a medical doctor. After graduating from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Tokyo, he worked as a hospital and prison psychiatrist before taking up further studies in France. His writing debut came in 1967 with the long novel Furandoru no fuyu (Winter in Flanders).