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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Shame in the Blood

Miura Tetsuo

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To purchase Shame in the Blood

Title: Shame in the Blood
Author: Miura Tetsuo
Genre: Novel
Written: 1960 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 216 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Shame in the Blood - US
Shame in the Blood - UK
Shame in the Blood - Canada
  • Japanese title: 忍ぶ川
  • Translated by Andrew Driver
  • Awarded the Akutagawa prize, 1960

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine pieces, not quite a whole

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 13/1/2008 Tayt Harlin
The NY Sun . 5/12/2007 Benjamin Lytal
San Francisco Chronicle . 2/12/2007 Michelle Quint

  From the Reviews:
  • "Tetsuo Miura's Shame in the Blood (1961) has sold more than a million copies in Japan. After reading Andrew Driver's translation, Miura's first into English, I can't think why. Though fluidly told, this novel -- really a collection of autobiographical stories, most of them scrutinizing from a different angle the travails of an aimless, bitter young man (...) -- lacks narrative momentum, its chapters petering out with little force." - Tayt Harlin, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Old-fashioned concepts of shame are still very much alive in Mr. Miura's stories. (...) But what makes Shame in the Blood so interesting, to us, is the way it illustrates the shifting values of a foreign culture. To recover from his family legacy, the narrator realizes he must reprogram himself." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

  • "While there is certainly a beauty in the simplicity of his storytelling, one yearns for deeper revelation as the stories unfold. What is missing is the ipso facto illumination necessary for a narrator who is so emotionally level. The best-written and most poignant chapter is the title story." - Michelle Quint, San Francisco Chronicle

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:

       Shame in the Blood isn't quite a novel, consisting of six stories that describe episodes from the narrator's life. While the first are more less connected, the fifth focusses on his childhood, while the last presents a new variation on his life, changing some of the details -- including the name of his wife, and some of the details of their relationship. After the first few, in which he also always briefly recapitulates what he has recounted in the previous chapter(s), reinforcing the continuity, it's a jarring shift.
       The narrator's 'shame in the blood' -- which was also author Miura's -- is the one constant, significant if not always completely dominating the stories. He is the youngest of six children, with two of his sisters having shamefully committed suicide, and two of his brothers having disappeared (and generally being presumed dead) -- the one running off with the family fortune. The remaining sister has an eye ailment that leaves her nearly blind; the narrator is the only one who is more or less 'normal'.
       His family circumstances weigh heavily on him:

     To me it all came down to blood. My suspicion was that the very blood that linked us all could be tainted. And the most frightening thing was the inevitability that the tainted blood of my siblings also ran through my veins. I would have to live my whole life fighting the lure of my tainted blood. I felt a terrible self-loathing when I realized that my life would be a constant struggle against my own blood.
       Among the consequences is his reluctance to have a child, for fear of passing it on -- though eventually he does have one.
       The narrator does fall in love, and he woos and then marries Shino (Fusako in the last story). He can't offer her much, but they seem to be happy together and devoted to each other, even as they are barely scraping by. The narrator is a would-be writer, but rarely gets any money for his work. He pawns many of his belongings, and anytime there is a larger expenditure -- even just a trip home -- it's often difficult for them to raise the money. Despite this, there's little sense of hopelessness -- things seem to work out: the landlord isn't too pushy about the rent, if they're desperate there are always friends who will help them out.
       There's a surprising calmness to the narrative, even as the narrator faces significant events in his life. The examination is often lingering and penetrating, as in the description of his father's death, but while never merely clinical there's often a sense of detachment. There's also a sense of resignation throughout, the narrator aware of the limits his circumstances place on everything. In part because of the repetition the book feels very much like Miura trying to come to terms with his past.
       Among the interesting sections are those where he attempts to be a 'big brother' to his wife's siblings, asking them to turn to him for advice before they make life-changing decisions, such as taking a job. But as one of them tells him:
     "The problem is, how could we come to you for advice ? You wouldn't understand our situation. It stands to reason. Someone who doesn't work can't give advice like that. we wouldn't really feel like coming to you for advice unless you were working too."
       It's yet another slap in the face, a simple truth that he is powerless to counter. Almost as devastating is in being told it so directly:
     As he spoke, his face betrayed no sign of contempt, no hint of hostility, no smile of derision. His eyes alone shone brightly, as if some exceptionally luminous body were housed within them. he was only honestly stating his feelings with his usual expression and usual voice. I was mortified, nonetheless, by his complete calm.
       It is similar with the shame he feels about his family: he rarely encounters outright hostility; instead, everything seems to be seething just below the surface. Only in childhood was he confronted with brutal truths to his face; ever since the shame is something he bears largely like a secret everyone knows but won't speak.
       Because of this reticence about publicly discussing any such shame -- he mulls over it a lot, but never discusses it with his family, for example -- the beginning of the story 'Magic Lantern Show', focussed on his childhood, is all the more effective:
     Eight-year-old Orin tightened her cheeks to form dimples, made a sucking sound, and announced, "I've got syphilis."
       "Oh. Does it feel good ?" I asked, squatting close to her face. I was six.
       Childish innocence contrasts sharply with adult reactions; the adult narrator at some points seems to almost wallow in his shame. The book memorably closes with a description of him listening to his bed-ridden pregnant wife relieving herself in a bedpan, and recalling listening to one of her relatives relieve themselves in a chamber pot years earlier, thoughts of hope for a future still tied so closely to what he clearly perceives as yet another shameful situation:
     And if only we could make a fresh start from there !
     But that was an impossible wish. Even the sound of the little bell had become nothing but a yellow, frothy sound. We would have to make our fresh start from the here and now, as many times as it took.
     I stared in silence at the darkness under the bed, until the sound had stopped.
       Here is a narrator who doesn't play many games. When he's fooling himself -- as sometimes occurs, as when he thinks he can be someone his wife's siblings could look up to as a figure worth turning to for advice and help -- he owns up to it as soon as he realises it. He draws no pretty pictures, he just tells it like it is. It makes for an often powerful story, as some of the episodes are particularly well related, the understated writing effectively poignant. But there's a lack of cohesion and continuity, the piecemeal presentation -- and then the sudden shifts, first back and then to a slightly different version of the present -- leave the whole seeming incomplete and slightly askew.
       Hardly a happy story -- and it doesn't feel like quite the whole story -- but well worthwhile for many of the excellent parts.

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Shame in the Blood: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Miura Tetsuo (三浦哲郎) was born in 1931.

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