Saturday, April 14, 2012

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Keizo Hino

Keizo Hino, Isle of Dreams

Dalkey Archive, 2010

translated by Charles de Wolf

I’ve lived in Tokyo for almost a decade now and it often seems to me that, although thirty million people live in Tokyo, almost no one looks at it. This book attracted me first because it aims to look. I was also enchanted by its first paragraph, which seemed to me the way all books ought to begin –

“When our consciousness begins to change, for better or for worse, events around us seem to fall in line, starting with mere coincidences, hardly worth noting. Of course, how could it be otherwise?”

What follows is the tale of a widower wandering in Tokyo’s reclaimed land: a wasteland built from waste. He nearly gets run down by a woman on a motorcycle and begins a journey through the heart (or guts) of Tokyo.

I live in Tokyo and read endlessly; some of my friends are literature professors or translators, yet I had never heard of this book and, when I try to speak of it to people, I nearly always get a blank look. Yet it is a stunningly strange and interesting book and one of many reasons to be grateful to the Dalkey Archive Press.

Certainly it is not a book for everyone. To whom do I recommend it? To architects, ecologists, and anyone obsessed with Tokyo, mannequins, or trash. Also to fans of Kafka, J.G. Ballard, Joseph Conrad. It is essential for anyone interested in ecological literature – though it certainly provides no obvious moral!

A bit of advice: the first half dozen chapters have a peculiar awkwardness and artificiality that will make sense – but only in retrospect. Persist!

Isle of Dreams on sale at the Dalkey Archive site.

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