By Otohiko Kaga
Translated by Albert Novick
Publication Date: 0 9/26/23
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.
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).