Japan. The last decade of the seventeenth century. Men who lived by the sword find themselves without a vocation while women begin to confront new opportunities and threats hitherto unimaginable. The austere demands of the haikai poet are no match for the new popularity of urban performers, and the medieval samurai ethos has been replaced by that of the merchant and the shogun’s bureaucrats.
This colourful but remote world is portrayed in these stories. Japan’s greatest poet Bashō features in several of them. We also meet young ‘peony girls’ who yearn for a life outside the pleasure quarters; a rogue samurai who seeks solace in wine, in the supposed serenity of haikai poetry, in the rigours of Zen Buddhism, and finally in his own acceptance of the impossibility of regaining the past. Another, more murderous samurai evolves into what modern yakuza gangsters see as their historical essence. A mysterious ‘daughter of the palace’ struggles with an unbearable remorse; a senior government official seeks to preserve Bashō’s poetic legacy; a teenage sociopath tries to carve out his own career by cutting a bloody swathe across the landscape; and a bizarrely preternatural pariah supervisor brings his own understanding of things with surprising and sometimes horrifying results.
The Plum Rains & Other Stories brings to life a uniquely beautiful and violent world.
About the Author
John Givens studied art and Japanese literature in Kyoto for four years and worked in Tokyo for eight years as a writer and editor. He received an MFA in creative writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where he was also a Teaching/Writing Fellow.
Givens has published three novels in the United States, Sons of the Pioneers, A Friend in the Police and Living Alone, as well as numerous short stories and poems in a variety of literary journals in the US, Japan and Ireland. His nonfiction books include A Guide to Dublin Bay: Mirror to the City and Irish Walled Towns, both published by The Liffey Press. Givens currently lives in Howth, County Dublin.
“Japan in the 17th century was a relatively peaceful place, unified by the Tokugawa family in 1601 after many centuries of feudal warfare. The resultant peace, however, left many men who had lived by the sword, the samurai class, out of work, and since samurai were not permitted to work at anything else, many became destitute and roamed the countryside; some even turned their hands to poetry and calligraphy. This stability also ensured the rise of the merchant classes, an explosion of the arts from theatre to poetry, and a growth in trade for courtesans who inhabited ‘the floating world of desire’. It is into this remote world and in particular the last decade of that century, that John Givens breathes a whole new life, in his book of short stories exploring the characters of that era, from courtesans to bandits, monks, brigands and rogue samurai.... Givens is not just a gifted storyteller – these stories are freighted with a deep knowledge and cultural understanding of Japan....Givens' prose and dialogues are so authentic that it's almost as if these stories were handed down or were translated from original sources.”
Joseph Woods, The Irish Times
“Givens’ remarkable collection of stories, each one set in 17th century Japan, are steeped in the ancient lore and customs of that far off era, as samurai Japan begins it awkward, halting dance with the complicating influences of the west.... Givens simply writes unforgettably lyrical stories about the mysteries located right in the heart of life – the persistence of desire, the callowness of youth, the sorrows of old age, the finality of death. This collection marks the most interesting work from an Irish American writer I have read in two decades.”
Cahir O’Doherty, The Irish Voice
“... fantastic, mesmerizing. The language is pristine, the pacing expertly con-trolled...”
William Litton, Editor, Wag’s Revue
Praise for A Friend in the Police
“A Friend in the Police suggests a parody of Conrad and Graham Greene by Nathanael West: it’s an exhilarating novel, an important satire, a comic vision phrased in energetic and constantly surprising prose.” — John Hawkes
“Somehow, John Givens moves from Waugh’s world to Conrad’s. That he could do so without visibly changing gears, or without forsaking his highly charged language, seems to me a very neat trick indeed.” — Peter S. Prescott, Newsweek
Praise for Living Alone
“There is a fine purity about this book, whose title, incidentally, is ironic. Living Alone is about not living alone, about the solitude of congestion; and it has the clear, deep humor that lies a brave step beyond farce, in the darker, larger regions of the absurd.” — Edith Milton, New York Times Book Review
“Living Alone exhibits an almost perfect union of talent and subject. Givens is a brilliant satirist … (with) as fine an eye as anyone for neurotic style, but he is content to let it yield satire. Yet in the best satire there is a kind of love for that which is satirized.… His eye is merciless, but a fondness informs his fine, dry prose.” — Larry McMurty, Chicago Tribune Bookworld
- Additional Information
Author Givens, John Editor No Print Format Electronic, Hardback, Paperback E-Book File Formats epub, mobi Paperback ISBN 978-1-908308-16-0 Hardback ISBN 978-1-905785-76-6 E-Book ISBN 978-1-908308-32-0 Date of Publication July 2012 Number of Pages 256 Illustrations None