Translated by Michiko N. and Michael K. Wilson
Loosely based on Minako Ōba’s (1930–) own life as storyteller, cultural critic, and humorist, Birds Crying recounts the story of a middle-aged female novelist, Yurie Mama, and her husband, Shōzō, in their encounters with friends and relatives, both at home and abroad. The story spans approximately six months, beginning in winter on Mt. Hiei near Kyoto, and ending with the rainy season in early summer in Tokyo. The plot revolves around Yurie’s outrageous cousin, Fū, and the paternity of Fū’s daughter, Mizuki, who returns to Japan on sabbatical with her German husband. Yurie is a free spirit and Shōzō a former “salaryman” (salaried white-collar employee) who has retired early from his company in order to enjoy life as a house-husband, secretary, cook, and dependent rolled into one. Their only child, their daughter, Chie, has long since left the nest. Although their intellectual interests do not always mesh—Shōzō is a trained scientist—they tacitly acknowledge that their differences keep boredom at bay and spice up their life together.
Embracing a wide scope of social and cross-cultural topics, Ōba’s sophisticated style relies on dialogues, which range from humorous and light-hearted to absurd to serious, an unusual treat in modern Japanese literature. She relishes combining contradictory elements: outrageous thoughts that tumble out, as well as tranquil, lucid meditations. Her characters find themselves simultaneously captive and liberator, both honoring and defying the limits of human capability and imagination.
Minako Ōba is recognized as the undisputed leader in the resurgence of Japanese women writers. She won the coveted Akutagawa Prize for her 1967 story “Three Crabs,” and in 1987 the all-male Akutagawa Award Selection Committee chose Ōba, along with another woman writer, Taeko Kōno, to serve as a judge on the Committee. Defying the odds against both success as a woman writer in the male-dominated Japanese literary establishment, and, in her personal life, as an exemplar of nonconformist choices, she has created a body of work that stands as refreshing, innovative, and inclusive.
Michiko Niikuni Wilson, Professor of Japanese literature and language at the University of Virginia, is the author of Gender Is Fair Game: (Re)Thinking the (Fe)Male on Minako Ōba (1999) and other books and translator of Nobel Prize winner Ōe Kenzaburo's 1976 novel, The Pinchrunner Memorandum (1994).
Michael Kenneth Wilson, co-translator of The Pinchrunner Memorandum, is a Web Designer at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Library.
EastBridge Japanese Horizons Japanese Literature-in-Translation
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