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January 21 , 2008

The Japanese Umbrella: and other stories


Writing of Francis King’s 1961 novel about contemporary Japan, The Custom House, Penelope Mortimer praised its ‘ferocious perception’. That widely-acclaimed book gave a view of the country which, in its revelation of the violence and brutality always present under a surface veneer of politeness and prettiness, was bound to shock and annoy many Japanophiles. This collection of short-stories, written in the two-year period following on the publication of The Custom House, shows that same penetrating insight into a civilisation in which politeness so often must do service for morality, but is at once blander and more affectionate in its approach. Francis King, who detested Japan when he first arrived there, left it five years later with regret and sadness; he himself became a Japanophile.

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Women face many challenging transitions on the pilgrimage from girlhood through womanhood: menses, love and heartbreak, motherhood, menopause. Devoid of a central narrative, these rites of passage too often happen in shame and secrecy, leaving women doubting their personal power and self-worth. Bestselling author and founder of The Way of the…

These stories show his talents in all their richness: acid and unsparing to his fellow westerners in ‘A Sentimental Education’ or ‘The Collectors’; dramatic in his handling of the clash between foreigner and Japanese in ‘The Crack’ or ‘The Festival of the Dead’; humorously ironic in ‘A Corner of a Foreign Field’; macabre in ‘The Puppets’. Taken together the stories provide a picture of a country that is both remarkable in both extent and depth, and guarantee for the reader, like all Francis King’s books, a compelling readability.

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