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June 28th, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Kyūzō Heads for Home

Beasts Head for Home

“The corner of an eroded sand dune could be seen where the river sharply diverged to again touch the edge of town. A few slanting Korean pine trees stood there, under which lay the unknown grave of his mother. When Kyūzō was in middle school, he had examined the sand dune’s movement as part of science class. He discovered that as the dune eroded with the annual spring floods, it moved northward by twenty or thirty centimeters. Before long it would overtake his mother’s grave, swallowing it up. After several hundred years, in the sandy plains created after the sand dune had swept through, what would someone think if they came across those crumbled, yellow bones?” — Abe Kōbō

This week, our featured book is Beasts Head for Home: A Novel, by Abe Kōbō, translated by Richard F. Calichman. In April, The Guardian featured an excerpt from the novel as part of their Translation Tuesday series. Today, we are happy to present a short piece of that excerpt. You can read the excerpt in full at The Guardian.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Beasts Head for Home!

Kyūzō Heads for Home
By Abe Kōbō. Translated by Richard Calichman

Raising his head, Kyūzō saw light dimly shining in above the door. There was a hole about the size of his thumb, and a dusty light could be seen whirling about. Peeking through the hole, he noted that the fog had nearly disappeared, and that several sheets of mist that had failed to escape hovered close to the ground, moving south. By the horizon a milky white light had begun to shine.

On his left, a large patch of fog was burning off in swirls, exposing the lowland that stretched from the northwest to the southeast. This was Xinghe. Here and there the snow had become bare, revealing a surface of ice that gleamed like new sheets of zinc. Further to the right, the town of Baharin stretched out like a stockyard of black brick.

In such light, however, it would no longer be easy to change cars. Suddenly the train emitted a burst of steam. Kyūzō stood motionless, vacillating, when again he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. They stopped directly in front of him. Someone rapped on the door with a stick and spoke in Chinese, with a provincial Shandong accent, “What happened to the cargo that was supposed to have been loaded here?”

Kyūzō pulled back, unconsciously grabbing the knife handle under his jacket. The other man replied in beautiful standard Chinese, “I hear that it was cancelled because it didn’t make it on time.”

The man with the Shandong accent followed up. “I’ll need certification for that. I’m an honest man, and it would be trouble if they thought I was cheating them.”

The two men set off, laughing.

Kyūzō leaned against the door. His shoulders heaved painfully. He told himself that things would work out, but his legs would not stop trembling. He pulled out the bottle and took a sip. The liquid flowed around his teeth.

He moved one of the wooden boxes in the corner, piling it up on the outside so as to create a small hiding place. Putting his belongings down, he returned to the peephole. It was now completely bright out. This flat town that was typically colorless and filled with smoke was now fresh and vibrant, illuminated by a pale backlight. The shantytown roofs beyond the mill tank ran on one after the other. For Kyūzō, they looked like dried fish skins. In the center, the upswept roof of a tall, many-walled Lama Buddhist temple glittered with a faint green light. Straight ahead past the river lay the alley through which he had just escaped. On his right, part of the bridge could be seen, and the smokestack of the pulp factory appeared especially high. Slightly in front of that stood the factory dormitory where Kyūzō was born and raised. A single red flag fluttered softly.

(“It seems I’m finally leaving.”)

The corner of an eroded sand dune could be seen where the river sharply diverged to again touch the edge of town. A few slanting Korean pine trees stood there, under which lay the unknown grave of his mother. When Kyūzō was in middle school, he had examined the sand dune’s movement as part of science class. He discovered that as the dune eroded with the annual spring floods, it moved northward by twenty or thirty centimeters. Before long it would overtake his mother’s grave, swallowing it up. After several hundred years, in the sandy plains created after the sand dune had swept through, what would someone think if they came across those crumbled, yellow bones?

The siren began its whine. It was 7:00. Martial law was now over.

Read the full excerpt in The Guardian‘s Translation Tuesday feature.

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