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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Life of a Counterfeiter

Inoue Yasushi

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To purchase Life of a Counterfeiter

Title: Life of a Counterfeiter
Author: Inoue Yasushi
Genre: Stories
Written: 1951-6 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 140 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Life of a Counterfeiter - US
Life of a Counterfeiter - UK
Life of a Counterfeiter - Canada
Life of a Counterfeiter - India
  • Translated by Michael Emmerich
  • Collects three stories:
    • Life of a Counterfeiter (ある偽作家の生涯, 1951) (previously translated by Leon Picon as 'The Counterfeiter' (1965))
    • Reeds (蘆, 1956)
    • Mr. Goodall's Gloves (グウドル氏の手袋, 1953)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nice trio of stories

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 10/2/2015 Iain Maloney
The NY Times Book Rev. . 5/4/2015 Janice P. Nimura

  From the Reviews:
  • "These three stories are related by the same unnamed narrator. He shares many similarities with Inoue, much of whose work was semi-autobiographical. Inoue began writing in 1949 and these tales are set in that period, although he ranges over the decades, touching many bases, often with infuriating speed." - Iain Maloney, The Japan Times

  • "Inoue writes with the economy of a poet, though allusions intended to resonate eloquently with Japanese readers can be obscure in English. His stories are steeped in ambiguity and the melancholy piquancy of pain, informed by the Buddhist teaching that passion and suffering are inextricably entwined." - Janice P. Nimura, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Life of a Counterfeiter collects three stories by Inoue Yasushi, first published between 1951 and 1956. While written in a still post-war-suffering Japan, each is rooted very much in the near and more distant past.
       The title-piece, taking up about half the book, is near-novella length. The narrator describes how he has long promised to write a biography of "the greatest painter of his age", Ōnuki Keigaku, -- a commission from the family, the newspaperman-narrator chosen for the task because he had interviewed the artist several times and Ōnuki Keigaku found him more agreeable than other reporters. The plan is originally to: "present the book to the deceased on the seventh anniversary of his death", in 1945, but the war makes it impossible to complete the task on time. Even beyond that, the narrator has difficulty getting to it -- and here focuses not so much on the artist himself, but on something he discovers while doing his research: that one of Keigaku's friends, Hara Hōsen, had counterfeited and sold paintings that he painted as Keigakus.
       Apparently very close at one time, Hōsen and Keigaku went very separate ways, the one becoming immensely successful, the other just scraping by. Dealing in paintings, Hōsen apparently only counterfeited Keigaku's work, otherwise sticking to authentic art. Along his research-travels the narrator even comes across a work Hōsen signed with his own name -- not half-bad, though as Keigaku's son, Takuhiko observes: "Odd spirit in there."
       The narrator seems more fascinated by Hōsen than the famous Keigaku. He learns that Hōsen also illegally made fireworks. Here too there was a bit of the artist in him, his great ambition to produce: "a deep, rich violet color, like a Chinese bellflower". Significantly, in showing off this art he:

never saw the fireworks he himself had launched and always had his back to the cheering crowds
       The narrator only gets a general sense of Hōsen, but in failing here too to create a full, detailed portrait he offers a narrative that is differently rich and revealing, more suggestive and opening up any number of questions about art, life, fate, friendship, authenticity, and accomplishment.
       In 'Reeds' the narrator is inspired by the story of a boy who was kidnapped at a young age, and eventually returned to his father -- though given the circumstances, it was impossible to be absolutely certain that it was, indeed, father and son who had been reunited. The narrator notes that in the boy's case:
an extraordinary disruption of his life had stolen his memory, leaving him only these three cards, but to some extent we are all in this position: each of us holds one or two cards that have been in our hands for years, whp knows why, while the cards that should be paired with them have disappeared
       This leads the narrator to revisit hazy memories of his own.
       The final story also looks into the past -- the narrator's own childhood, as well as figures from before his time who nevertheless were presences in his life back then. Art -- calligraphy by a doctor, Matsumoto Jun, who had been one of the teachers of the narrator's great-grandfather -- and the mundane -- a pair of gloves -- are the triggers and memories that mix in this story that pulls him back to recall the time spent as "hostage" of Grandma Kano, the woman who, between the ages of six and thirteen, raised the narrator, and who venerated Matsumoto Jun.
       In all three stories Inoue achieves a resonant effect: even as his narrators seem casual in their actions and recollections, there's a lingering depth to it all. The narrator can suggest:
     Of course, it doesn't matter. However I imagine it, I am still only imagining.
       In their different ways Inoue's stories suggest that our lives and the memories we have are all like that, and that what we read into and make and keep of them -- the life of this Hōsen; the vague memory of something seen in childhood -- is what is literally essential.
       Nicely crafted, these are stories that seem to meander somewhat aimlessly and yet achieve exactly the aim Inoue has in how they stick in our memory as reflections of the amorphous shape of reality itself.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 March 2015

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Life of a Counterfeiter: Reviews: Inoue Yasushi: Other books by Inoue Yasushi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Inoue Yasushi (井上 靖) lived 1907 to 1991.

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© 2015 the complete review

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