Tongue Me! Summer Fiction in Translation.

They may speak puzzling languages, but foreigners write books too.

The Glass Slipper and Other Stories
By Shotaro Yasuoka, translated by Royall Tyler
Dalkey Archive Press, 146 pp., $22.95

Success greeted the Japanese author Shotaro Yasuoka, now nearly 90, immediately upon the publication of the short stories that make up The Glass Slipper and Other Stories. With frugal, occasionally lyrical prose (translated by Royall Tyler), these works, from the early 1950s, prize emotional and psychological depth over narrative propulsion, and feature hapless, illness-prone, passive narrators. "Like someone who's just fallen asleep," muses one, "I was drawn along through the empty city as if by an irresistible force."

Claustrophobic cosmopolitans: Germany's Maxim Biller
Hadley Hudson
Claustrophobic cosmopolitans: Germany's Maxim Biller

The city is Tokyo, emptied out by the ravages of World War II, and Yasuoka's misfits glide through it in search of a decent job or some other sense of direction. Many have college degrees, but even they seem indivisible from the school-age protagonist of "Homework," the longest and most elusive tale included here. Today, readers might suspect that these anxiety-ridden twenty- and thirtysomethings are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Half a century ago, though, they roamed freely and fumbled through relationships with dainty, equally sensitive girls, as in the gorgeous title story. They also frequently deceive one another, like the strutting gang of dandy provocateurs in "The King's Ears," or writhe in impotent frustration beneath the chain-like bonds of family, like the son who falls "into a sort of weary resignation about being stuck" with his eccentric, self-sabotaging father in "The Sword Dance." Building upon the foundation laid by figures like novelist Yasunari Kawabata and filmmaker Yasujiru Ozu, Yasuoka has created a sturdy framework for these unsparing, deft character studies. — Brian Sholis

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