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The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan

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As the subtitle proclaims, The Broken Bridge is a collection of writing by resident foreigners in Japan. The thirty-six stories in this lively and eclectic collection, which range from several-page vignettes to stories of some twenty pages, span the first fifty years of the postwar period— 1945 to 1995—although the great majority are of recent vintage. In his excellent introduction, Donald Richie, who surely deserves the title of uncrowned monarch of Japan’s expat community, notes that the collection is “not definitive.” This ought to go without saying, for with the single exception of the Pacific War years, Westerners—both long-term residents and all manner of tourists—have been a fixed feature of the Japanese landscape since the 1850s. Their accumulated impressions, memoirs, travel sketches, and reminiscences constitute a noteworthy subgenre of Japanological narrative.

What immediately distinguishes the collection under review is that it consists of fictional narratives, rather than the more standard autobiographical fare of those who recount their Japan experiences. The fictionality here, though, is often rather thinly veiled, which is certainly understandable in such an anthology. And in view of the blurring of “fact” and “fiction” that distinguishes so much modern Japanese writing, it is not surprising that The Broken Bridge would provide moments when the story at hand felt like a Japanese work in English translation!