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‘The Paper Door and Other Stories’: Naoya Shiga’s rollercoaster ride of human emotions

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Considered a master of the Japanese short story, Naoya Shiga’s “The Paper Door and Other Stories” truly impresses. Seventeen stories explore a vast range of human emotions, from fever-induced insanity in “The Razor” to the analytical musings of a circus performer whose stunt has just gone horribly wrong in “Han’s Crime.”

The Paper Door and Other Stories, by Shiga Naoya, Translated by Lane Dunlop.
173 pages
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS, Fiction.

From simple acts of kindness on a train, (“As Far as Abashiri”) or lost chances at redemption (“Kuniko”), these stories consider humanity’s darkness and purity with equal off-hand perspicacity. Covering a span of 40 years and including frequent autobiographical underpinnings, this collection also reveals the struggles of a writer reconciling a tranquil domestic life with the need to experience extreme emotion as an artist. The readings are enhanced by Donald Keene’s preface to this 2001 new edition, placing Shiga within the wider Japanese literary sphere, as well as biographical and literary highlights in translator Lane Dunlop’s preface.

The collection also resonates with its varied examples of Shiga’s diverse style. Despite occasionally uneven word choice within the translation, the haiku-like prose in the hauntingly sparse “A Gray Moon” contrasts to richly drawn character studies like that of “Seibei and his Gourds.” Taken together, these stories reveal the depth and range of a dedicated artist of the short story, a man who chose domestic, simple happiness away from the life of a writer. (Kris Kosaka)

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.