Fires on the Plain

Fires on the Plain

Shōhei Ōoka

Language: English

Pages: 265

ISBN: B003IJ332W

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Winner of the 1951 Yomiuri Prize for Literature! I believe only around a dozen of these winners has been translated into English, so this is a real treat. I have not read too much Japanese literature explicitly dealing with wartime experience; this is really the only one to be memorable--not least because the narrator, not just the events.

Borzoi imprint of the Knopf company; first edition, translated by Ivan Morris. The other translation would be a welcomed edition on the tracker! If there is interest, I can upload his "Record of a POW"--just leave a comment.

From the end of the book:
Shōhei Ōoka (pronounced “Oh-ka”) was born in Tokyo in
1909. He specialized in French at Kyoto University, and was
graduated in 1932, after which he made a name as a translator
of French literature. In 1944 he joined the Japanese Army,
and was taken prisoner in the Philippine defeat of 1945. In
1953-4 he was a Fulbright Visiting Professor at Yale Uni­
versity, and at present lectures on French literature at Meiji
University in Tokyo.
He is the author of a war diary, RECORD OF A POW (1948),
and of two novels, THE LADY OF MUSASHINO (1950) and FIRES
ON THE PLAIN (1952). He has contributed short stories and
critical essays to almost every literary magazine in Japan,
and has been awarded two literary prizes: the Yokomitsu
Prize in 1949 for his first book, and the Yomiuri Prize in
1952 for this one. He now lives in the beautiful coastal town
of Oiso, not far from Tokyo, with his wife and two children.

The story is told through the eyes of a Private Tamura who, after being thrown out by his own company, chooses to desert the military altogether and wanders aimlessly through the Philippine jungle during the Allied campaign. Descending into delirium, Tamura is forced to confront nature, his childhood faith, hunger, his own mortality, and in the end, cannibalism.

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

The book received the Yomiuri Prize and, along with Tsukamaru made, is perhaps the best-known of Ooka's work among English readers. An English language translation by Ivan Morris was completed in 1957. It was made into a film of the same name in 1959, directed by Kon Ichikawa and starring Eiji Funakoshi. David C. Stahl has noted that Morris expunged sections where the narrator makes clear that he is manipulating the memoir, while Ichikawa focused on the helplessness of the individual in the face of war. In both versions, the Tamura character is more passive and weak than in the original work.

Morris, writing in his introduction in the 1957 English version that he translated, praised the book as one of the most 'powerful accounts of the obscenity of war that has ever been written'. In his view, the only other comparable novels of the Second World War, published up to that time (1957), were Stalingrad by Theodor Plievier (1948) and Look Down in Mercy by Walter Baxter (1951).













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