Yoshikichi Furui. White-Haired Melody.
White-Haired Melody offers a psychological rumination on death, life, and the liminal space between them that we all inhabit at various times in our life. This thoroughly engaging, if challenging work, marks the welcome first appearance in English of a novel by Yoshikichi Furui (b. i937). It doesn't have the darkly brooding tone of his earlier works reviewed here (see WLT, Autumn 1997, 872; WLT, Winter 1998, 222), yet the introspections occasioned and punctuated by private deaths and public accidents leave the reader with a realization that the subject is one not easily grasped nor comfortably internalized. Its complex pattern of nested flashbacks is a hallmark of Furui's writing and disrupts the smooth flow of the narrative; yet it is precisely this confrontation with destabilized time that captures so elegantly the melody of an elderly man's thanatological cogitations.
The protagonist, whose life bears a remarkable similarity to that of the author, takes us on a free-flowing journey through fifty years of recollections. There is no particular point at which the tale begins, nor any at which it ends; the narrative is but slices of time. The 2995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway appears at the end of the novel, but all one gains from this knowledge is a momentary sense of connectedness in an otherwise fluid repetition of the waves of time lapping gently at the shores of memory. This remembered past, however, is contrasted with a present that belies the narrowness of the autobiographical tradition, for the protagonist rebuffs the specificity of autobiography in all but the superficial: he is all of us.
The protagonist leaps languidly, Heisenberg-like, to and fro through his past, frequently anchoring his serpentine narrative to major disasters or the passings of individuals. This gives the novel a subliminal darkness, but it is in no way oppressive. We see here, too, Furui's fascination with topography--in this case, that of urban development. The physical routes he traces often seem indistinct reflections of a journey through the sulci of the brain. Uncertain where each twist and turn might lead, we are surprised to discover we are back at the beginning, or approaching from a new direction some distant point already traversed. As ambiguous as these analepses are, they epitomize the unscripted song of one's life, for the memories are presented in such a way that eschews premeditation and privileges associatative recollections, nonlinear jumps, and time-indistinct narration that frequently leaves the reader grasping for whatever straws might be afloat in the "long-stagnant pool of time [that] had suddenly begun to flow once more ..."
The translation is comfortable, although not free of the occasional awkward phrase, and there are several instances of editorial slips, such as the incorrect date of original publication given in the colophon. These are trivial, however, in light of the pleasure derived from reading a novel that makes you work for its reward, and finding the reward is well worth the effort.
Erik R. Lofgren