Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Life feeds on life

Do you like your novels bleak? Well then pick up Akira Yoshimura's Shipwrecks which is about as bleak as they come. The book tells the story of a nine year old boy who has to quickly learn how to provide for his family as his father has been sold as a temporary indentured servant. There is no shame in this, as most families in this dirt poor village end up sending off a family member or two to earn a bit of extra money. Much of the book is about the deprivations faced the villagers and the difficulty they have in finding food. They all hope for O-fune-sama, a sort of gift from the gods. This gift has a great moral cost, as the O-fune-sama refers to wrecked ships which the villagers lure to the reefs through the use of fire. As you might guess, bad things eventually come of this.

The cover blurb says the book is like an old Japanese film and I think it is, although you could also compare it to a classic Ingmar Bergman film. It is purposely slow, as these lives are almost absent of event or detail, and it highlights the importance of the O-fune-sama. Morality (or its absence) is a big theme in this book. The characters in the book have become predators, although they don't see themselves as such and they act charitably and correctly towards each other. Considered in that light, the book shows how easily it is to adhere to different standard for those in-group and those out of group.

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