Author: Lafcadio Hearn
Publication Information: New York: Fall River Press, 2010
ISBN: 9781435120235 (143512023X)
Library of Congress Classification: PS1917
Dewey Decimal Classification: 389
Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Ghost stories, Japanese
Japan—Social life and customs—Fiction
I’ve always loved ghost stories. This collection comes from someone who once lived in Japan and enjoyed the culture. Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) died at the beginning of the last century. He had an interesting life. Born on Lekfada, one of the Greek islands, to a British surgeon and a Kytherian Greek mother of noble heritage, Hearn was raised in Ireland after having been baptized Greek Orthodox. He eventually came to live in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he married an African American woman, which was illegal at the time. Eventually he made he way to Japan, married a Japanese woman, had children, and wrote about Japanese culture and folklore, of which this book is a reprint.
When reading ghost stories from other cultures, it is interesting to see how the ghost manifests, what the cultural attitudes towards ghosts are, and how the characters function in those cultures and around the ghosts. This collection presents a variety of people found in many different situations.
There are many different spirits. In A Dead Secret, O-Sono married and had a boy but died after four years of marriage. Her son tells the household that his mother has come back, and fear drives them to consult a monk. The monk discovers what is troubling O-Sono. The Story of Aoyagi tells of Tomodata, a young samurai, who meets a wonderful peasant girl that he marries, with a surprising result. Of a Mirror and a Bell is about the death of an old woman whose mirror was used to make a bell for a Buddhist temple–and her prophecy that whomever breaks the bell while ringing it will be rich. Like any collection, some of the stories are only okay or just odd. The original subtitle for Kwaidan was “Stories and Studies of Strange Things,” which explains why some of the stories are not about ghosts. Nonetheless, it is a good book.
Something must be said about the illustrations. They are beautiful and are rendered in traditional Japanese art style. All are in color and all are extremely striking.