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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Phantom Lights

Miyamoto Teru

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Title: Phantom Lights
Author: Miyamoto Teru
Genre: Stories
Written: (1986) (Eng. 2011)
Length: 168 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Phantom Lights - US
Phantom Lights - UK
Phantom Lights - Canada
Phantom Lights - India
  • Collects eight stories first published in Japanese between 1978 and 1986
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Roger K. Thomas
  • Preface by Juliet Winters Carpenter

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-written -- but gloomy stuff

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Phantom Lights collects eight stories that were first published between 1978 and 1986. Many feature death or the dying, or characters in terribly straitened circumstances -- down to their last yen, dealing with a desperately alcoholic mother, etc. Several of the stories are clearly based on personal experience (and many written in the first person); as one convincingly ends:

The juvenile image of myself went back down the alley that is myself.
       Miyamoto presents these episodes from life very well; the stories are affecting and quite beautifully crafted. But it is gloomy stuff. A powerful story such as Vengeance already begins darkly with what appears to be a simple abuse of power by a teacher, punishing threes students, two of whom are soon later expelled from the school, with only the narrator remaining a student there. Years later, the narrator -- heavily indebted for his gambling losses -- runs into one of his former classmates, who is now a successful gangster; he vowed vengeance on the abusive teachers, and now sets a plan into motion -- which brings back more of the narrator's memories, revealing that the abuse was much worse than first suggested: even with its redemptive ending, a sort of justice meted out, the story winds up being even bleaker than it first seemed.
       Miyamoto is a regional author, from the Kansai area (basically, the area around Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe, often contrasted with the dominant Kantō region (Tokyo and its environs)), and as translator Roger Thomas notes in his Introduction, all the dialogue in the original stories is in the distinctive Kansai dialect -- "which 'feels' markedly different to native Japanese and to foreigners who have studied the language". As he notes, it's almost impossible to render this marked difference in English, so that part of the stories is lost in translation; nevertheless, the translations read very well and fluently, even if they are missing that additional quality.
       These are very fine stories, but, despite some characters who come to a philosophical sort of state of acceptance of their situations and circumstances, it is anything but an uplifting collection. Miyamoto is certainly worth reading, however.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 March 2012

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Phantom Lights: Miyamoto Teru: Other books by Miyamoto Teru under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Miyamoto Teru (宮本輝) was born in 1947.

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