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For most readers, Japanese literature may suggest romantic/erotic works by Nagai Kafu, elegantly classical and humorously or sinisterly “kinky” fiction by Tanizaki, or coolly stylish contemporary works by Haruki Murakami. For such readers, this volume will come as a shock — both refreshing and depressing.

In the 1920s to early 1930s there was a flourishing proletarian literary movement, smashed to pieces by the right-wing militarist government that controlled Japan from the coyly named “Manchurian Incident” right through the end of the war in 1945. Left-wing literature was rigorously censored or forbidden altogether, and writers were harassed, imprisoned, and, in the admittedly exceptional case of Takiji Kobayashi, murdered by the authorities. From time to time, as Japan has faced various postwar crises, popular interest in proletarian literature has revived. Now English readers have a chance to experience, in a lively translation, three representative works by Kobayashi, two of them translated for the first time.

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