In this re-release of a 1993 English collection of stories, one of Japan's most beloved writers and poets weaves strangely magical tales—with roots in Japanese folklore and European fairy-tales—that deal with corruption, bad luck, and some other of life's darker forces.
This collection...encompasses such a range of tones that it's remarkable there's a sense of a cohesive whole at all. Miyazawa...lives in the details, and when one story is about a flurry of preparations for the expected visit of the Buddha, and the next is a wicked joke about a suspiciously carnivorous restaurant, that's no small task. There's a wildness to these stories, both through the strength of Miyzawa's voice and his use of familiar fairy-tale motifs turned slightly askew, which can feel abrupt on a first read and satisfyingly subversive on a second one. Many of Miyazawa's stories resist tidiness or easy moralizing. There's certainly a sense of morality (at times it even feels like a keenly-felt wound is being lanced onto the page), and every so often there's a tidy tale about an overly-defensive rat that drives its friends away. But by and large, Miyazawa's stories are grounded by a sense of the many intersecting injustices at play in the world, for corrupt police chiefs and carnivorous slugs alike ... Not every story is a timeless classic ... But more often, these deftly-rendered stories have careful grace notes amid the everyday energy of a world in which anything can happen, and probably will. They balance chaos and kindness, the natural and the supernatural, the unsettling and the inspiring; Once and Forever is a fascinating collection from a compelling writer, and will be right at home in any library of short stories or modern folklore.
Much of the material in Once and Forever fulfills a reader’s expectations of fairy tales. Miyazawa’s subject matter is at times gloomy (betrayal and death feature prominently) and often otherworldly ... Like the tales of Andersen and the Grimms, many of the stories in Once and Forever may appeal to children: the sort of thoughtful, dark-minded children who like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. But adults will be the primary audience for the shivers of disturbance these stories send up the spine ... The swift evocations of the landscape, good humor about human foibles...and sparks of magic only make these stories more touching. At times, the prose can feel fusty and twee, especially in creaky turns of phrase ... Lacking familiarity with Japanese, it’s hard to know if the tinge of mildew comes from the original text...or the taste of the translator. From the antique tone of the introduction, one suspects the latter. Nevertheless, for readers who relish the disturbing material of fairy tale, the specificity and surprise of tanka, collisions of the everyday with the supernatural and glimpses of Japan right on the brink of industrialization, this English volume of Kenji Miyazawa’s odd, masterly stories will be a delight.
The natural imagery is especially prevalent in these tales, not only in the presence of animal characters, but in the environmental detail that surrounds them. The short length and slight nature of many of these stories means they are often better appreciated in a poetic light than a plot one. Some of them, however, make for more substantive reading ... There is humor...and also profound kindness ... compassion runs through Miyazawa's tales ... Many of the stories lack any particular villain; those that have one are as likely to grant them mercy as to bring retribution down upon their heads. And even when the latter occurs, another character or the narrative voice itself often expresses sympathy for their erstwhile tormenter. That sense of kindness makes for gentle reading, despite the sadness and cruelty that often crops up along the way.