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Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009

David Cozy: Best books of 2009

THE EDOGAWA RAMPO READER, by Edogawa Rampo. Translated by Seth Jacobowitz. Kurodahan Press, 241 pp., $16.00 (paper)

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To grasp the achievement of Edogawa Rampo one needs to read both his stories and his essays. Thus Kurodahan Press, in making available this exquisitely edited collection of both fiction and nonfiction, has done readers a great service. Entering the fantastic twists and turns of Rampo's stories, one is soon lost in them the way that, when boys and girls ourselves, we became the characters in the romance or adventure we were reading. The essays are similarly fascinating for the light they throw on an author devoured by many Japanese, but little known in the West.

A DRIFTING LIFE, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Translated by Taro Nettleton. Drawn & Quarterly, 855 pp., $29.95 (paper)

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Yoshihiro Tatsumi's account of his journey from schoolboy cartoonist to the center of the Japanese manga industry during its heyday is a fascinating portrait of the artist as a young man. We learn what it was like to work as a manga-ka in the 1950s and '60s, and also how Japan and the world changed during that time. "A Drifting Life" is a substantial tome, but having turned the last of its many pages one is hungry for more. "I've drifted along, demanding an endless dream from gekiga (comics)," Tatsumi concludes his masterpiece, "And I. . . probably. . . always will." Dream on, Mr. Tatsumi.

THE CHINA LOVER, by Ian Buruma. Penguin Press, 2008, 392 pp., $26.95 (hardcover)

Everything from Ian Buruma's pen is worth reading and his second novel is no exception. It is surprising that no one has thought, until now, of basing a historical novel on the life of that chameleon-like actress Yoshiko (aka Shirley) Yamaguchi. Buruma does so with aplomb, giving us a taut narrative that provides all the satisfactions of a page turner, but at the same time is a nuanced look at Japanese and world history, through the lens of Yamaguchi's life, from prewar Manchuria to late 20th-century Beirut.

David Cozy is a writer and critic, and the reviews editor at Kyoto Journal. He teaches at Showa Women's University.


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