on 8 January 2012
Ogai is often mentioned as one of the pre-eminent Meiji authors alongside Natsume S'seki. If that's truly the case then "The Wild Geese" doesn't do him justice as it's not a patch on Soseki's best.
Perhaps a lot of this is down to the translation, which isn't the best. For instance, at one point we're told that Otama's father felt that losing his daughter to a scary looking policeman was, "like having her carried off by a monster with a long nose and a red face." That's a very awkward sentence and to anyone in the know (admittedly far from everybody) that quote obviously describes a Tengu. Why the translators didn't just use an appropriate word like "demon" instead of giving a literal description of a Tengu, I don't know. It seems awfully clumsy and I can't believe that's how it was written originally in the Japanese. There are other minor issues with the translation - such as the way honorifics are denoted - that grate as well although I realise this is only noticeable to someone more familiar with Japanese culture. Regardless, it would be nice to see a decent translation one day (I know the translation Tuttle use for "Botchan" is another awful disservice).
The story itself is fine but feels rather lightweight. Little takes place in the novel, which is fine, but it all feels so inconsequential in a way that the minor events of, say, Soseki's "Sanshiro" don't. The characters and story take a while to get going and then it ends quite suddenly. The lack of neat resolution may be part of the point but it all feels rather abrupt.
It all left me wondering why Ogai is thought of in such high regard. Given that few of his works are easily available in translation one would expect what is available to be among his best work; either this translation is very poor or that's simply not the case.
on 4 December 2003
This is a tale of complex people who in their interaction find life to be much more complicated than they had expected or feared. Suezo, a moneylender, is tired of life with his nagging, highly imperfect wife, so he decides to take a mistress. Otama, the only child of a widower merchant, wishes that she could provide for her aging father, and when an obviously rich man asks her to be his mistress, a new hope beckons. When Otama learns the truth about Suezo, she feels betrayed, and hopes to find a hero to rescue her. When Otama meets Okada, a medical student, she feels that she might indeed have met her hero.
This is a bittersweet story, a story of hope and unfairness. The wild geese wish only for freedom, but sometimes others use them for purposes they cannot imagine. Published between 1911 and 1913, this book gives an excellent peek into the society of early modern Japan.
This book is an achingly beautiful story, and a fascinating historical document. I highly recommend it.