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Chronicles of My Life: An American in the…
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Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan

by Donald Keene

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"Chronicles of My Life" is a short autobiography and memoir written by Donald Keene, who is arguably the leading American scholar of Japanese literature, poetry and theater. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature at Columbia University, where he has taught for over 50 years, and he has written several dozen books about Japanese history, culture and literature, including "Modern Japanese Literature", "Twenty Plays of the No Theatre" and "Five Modern Japanese Novelists". His latest book, "So Lovely A Country Will Never Perish: Wartime Diaries of Japanese Writers", was published by Columbia University Press earlier this year.

Keene was born in New York City and initially attended Columbia on a scholarship, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1942. He enlisted in the Navy, where he was trained to be a Japanese translator during World War II. He made his initial trips to China and Japan during the war years, serving both as an interviewer of Japanese prisoners and civilians and a translator of sensitive documents and diaries. Upon his discharge from the Navy he attended Cambridge, then spent several years living in Japan, where he continued his study of Japanese literature while befriending many leading Japanese novelists, including Yukio Mishima, Nobelists Yasunari Kawabata and Kenzaburo Oe, and Kobo Abe. He returned to Cambridge to teach, while spending summers in Japan, and then returned to Columbia, where he received his PhD and taught Japanese literature and culture.

Keene describes his fascinating life and experiences in New York, Cambridge and London, and Tokyo and Kyoto in this compelling and personal account, with great sensitivity and candor. His life is both enriching and most rewarding, but he also portrays himself as a sensitive, often lonely and sometimes depressed man, which endeared this reader to the man and his story. He also describes, in lesser detail, the personal lives of several tragic figures, including Mishima, who committed seppuru in 1970 after being passed over for the 1968 Nobel Prize, and Kawabata, who may have also taken his life in part due to Mishima's death.

Keene also aptly describes his experiences as a foreigner in Japan, a translator of Japanese literature and the difficulties he faced in getting American publishers to accept Japanese literature despite its popularity in the mid-20th century, and the rewards and frustrations of teaching at Columbia and Cambridge.

"Chronicles of My Life" is a wonderfully written and sensitive memoir, and is highly recommended. ( )
6 vote kidzdoc | Aug 17, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0231144407, Hardcover)

"I sometimes think that if, as the result of an accident, I were to lose my knowledge of Japanese, there would not be much left for me. Japanese, which at first had no connection with my ancestors, my literary tastes, or my awareness of myself as a person, has become the central element of my life."

In this eloquent and wholly absorbing memoir, the renowned scholar Donald Keene shares more than half a century of his extraordinary adventures as a student of Japan. Keene begins with an account of his bittersweet childhood in New York; then he describes his initial encounters with Asia and Europe and the way in which World War II complicated that experience. He captures the sights, scents, and sounds of Japan as they first enveloped him, and talks of the unique travels and well-known intellectuals who later shaped the contours of his academic career.

Keene traces the movement of his passions with delicacy and subtlety, deftly weaving his love for Japan into a larger narrative about identity and home and the circumstances that led a Westerner to find solace in a country on the opposite side of the world. Chronicles of My Life is not only a fascinating tale of two cultures colliding, but also a thrilling account of the emotions and experiences that connect us all, regardless of our individual origins.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:57 -0400)

Donald Keene shares more than half a century of his adventures as a student of Japan. Keene begins with an account of his bittersweet childhood in New York; then he describes his initial encounters with Asia and Europe and the way in which World War II complicated that experience. He captures the sights, scents, and sounds of Japan as they first enveloped him, and talks of the unique travels and well-known intellectuals who later shaped the contours of his academic career. --from publisher description.… (more)

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