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Paperback Shipwrecks Book

ISBN: 0156008351

ISBN13: 9780156008358


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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

Isaku is a nine-year-old boy living in a remote, desperately poor fishing village on the coast of Japan. His people catch barely enough fish to live on, and so must distill salt to sell to neighboring... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

The Ocean giveth, and The Ocean taketh away

If you live in a rural Japanese fishing village, then the Ocean is everything. Absolutely everything you have, your possessions, your very life, is pulled from its churning depths. You worship it like a god, and ask its blessing and fear its retribution. Your skill in managing its mysteries determines your status, who you can marry, how many children you can have, everything. "Shipwrecks" is an account of this lifestyle, in a tiny village which owes its existence from the whims of the sea. The story follows the life of a young boy 9-year old boy, Isaku, who must take on the responsibilities of providing for mother and siblings, after his father sells himself into indentured servitude to save his starving family. Struggling to be a man, he learns to read the ocean, to know when the fish will come and how to harvest them. He watches the salt pots that burn on the beach, providing an additional source of income for the village. He dreams of the arrival of Ofunesan, shipwrecked vessels filled with exotic goods that occasionally come near the village, lured by the lights of the burning salt pots. The shipwrecks are harvested in the same manner as all things the ocean brings, without worrying about the morality of it all. Things die so that other things may life. This is not a dramatic book. There are no great life changes, no sweeping events. Good things happen, and the people are happy. Bad things happen, and the people are sad. But they accept both as what life has to offer. There is no outrage at the ocean when it brings devastation, just the knowledge that this too shall pass, and the survivors will rebuild, and the hope that next time the ocean will deliver a bounty. When the book ends, there is no climax, because you know that life in the village will continue on much as it always has, and we were just offered a brief glimpse.

Not good or bad concepts - just mere survival

Concepts of good and bad are confused in this story and another system pervades - survival. The reader is totally immersed with the village people concern for their endurance and in their prayer for O-fune-sama, a wrecked ship that might better their condition for a few years, with the plundered ship's supply of rice. However, although the villagers are poor and hungry they do not seem to be bitter and the relations amongst them seem to be good. All obey the orders and rules set by the head of the village even if those orders are hard to grasp towards the end of the story. All village is united in its daily work and desperate wish for O-fune-sama and all take part in the daily "work" in trying to lure the ships to their shore by lighting huge bonfires at night. This book can be read in several levels and as three different stories: The first one is the story of survival through harsh conditions. The second is the story of the coming of age of Isaku. Isaku is only nine years old when his father sells himself for slavery for three years and has to provide for his family while his father is missing. The third is a cosmic tale of world order and the constant battle between good and evil. The villagers are punished upon their "wrong" doing in the same way they are being "prized". The story is hard but is nevertheless a great read and a very easy one. The author does not spare us the exact details of the "punishment" as he did not spare us the details of the daily existence of the village people and the periodic catch of the sea.

An incredible tale of survivor

SHIPWRECKS by Akira YoshimuraWritten by one of Japan's most honored novelists, Akira Yoshimura, SHIPWRECKS is a tale that takes place in a poverty stricken Japanese fishing village during Medieval times and centers on the difficult life that the villagers endure to keep alive. Translated from the Japanese by Mark Ealey, it is a tale of suffering and hard work, told from the viewpoint of a young boy as he grows from child into man.Young Isaku is 9-year-old boy at the start of this story. But for him, childhood is short-lived, and even as a young boy of five, he was expected to pull his weight and help support his family. The village where he lives is isolated from the rest of the island, and to make ends meet, they resort to fishing and trading, depending on the season. The other option is selling oneself into servitude or bondage, in exchange for goods. Isaku's father has sold himself, and at the start of this novel he is already living in another village working for his master. In the meantime, Isaku is the man of the house, and it is up to him to catch their food and to keep his mother and siblings from starvation. Rice is hard to come by, and most of their meals are vegetables or grains traded for salt with the neighboring village. He barely knows how to fish, so it is not often that they have anything substantial to eat. Isaku eventually learns about the "ofune-sama", which is Japanese for "ship god" or "ship master", and it is this ofune-sama that helps the village thrive. Every few years, a ship or two will ground itself upon the rocks that border their shores and the villagers will pillage and kill any survivors on that ship to take what they can to feed their families. The villagers see no harm in this. It is what they have done for many generations and it is how they live. They know no other way, and Isaku follows his family in obeying their customs.One year, a ship arrives that they think is "ofune-sama", but brings bad fortune to the people of this tiny village. What happens to them is beyond description. Is it karma that brings this ill luck to them? Yoshimura's tale of life in this impoverished town does not point fingers, but serves as a parable. I found this book one of the most unique stories I have read in my entire life. Not only did it describe a way of life that was totally foreign to me, but also it was done so to the minutest detail. The first half of the book was dedicated in describing this lifestyle, so by the second half the reader has become quite familiar with the routines that are performed month by month that Isaku and his family had to endure to keep alive. It is a trip into another world and another time, with a possible lesson to be learned at the end. I recommend this book for those who are serious readers, and are willing to read "outside the box".

When is a Crime Not a Crime?

Shipwrecks is a tale of a town's destruction told through one resident's eyes. The witness in Yoshimura's novel is Isaku, who, at the beginning of the book is only a nine year old boy. His small fishing village is balancing precariously between a meager life and death by starvation. Family by family, the inhabitants stave off total collapse only through selling their individual kin into slavery in the town across the mountains.After Isaku's father has been removed from the home in just such an arrangement, the boy continues to live with his mother and younger brother and sister, Isokichi and Kane. The story is, in some ways, the tale of Isaku's loss of innocence as he attempts to fulfill the duties of head of the household--fishing for saury and sardines and octopus and squid, and, most importantly, tending the salt cauldrons. For Isaku, this represents a confirmation of his own maturation, for the salt cauldrons are of prime importance to the town and its people.A naïve boy, Isaku comes to learn that, in addition to boiling the salt out of sea water to sell, the fires on shore serve another, more sinister, purpose--that of luring unsuspecting trading ships onto the reef. The village calls it O-fune-sama and sees it--the destruction of those ships and the subsequent murder of their sailors, as a gift from the gods, no different from any other harvest, such as rice and pottery, cloth and utensils. Far from being a crime, what the villagers are now engaged in nourishes the small town and keeps it from dying.Even as Isaku learns about the inherent risks--specifically those of luring clan ships to ruin instead of trading ships--O-fune-sama is never questioned: it is a necessity and a customary part of the yearly cycle; there is no moral question to be answered...other than the town's quiet acknowledgment that no one beyond the village must know.In this small book, time unfolds at a leisurly, but disquieting, pace. There is a quiet passing of the seasons in which normalcy seems to prevail: couples wed, children are born, elderly persons die. As Isaku's father is not due to return for years, a routine finally settles in and it is time to fish for saury, then squid, then octopus. And, when the trade ships are running again, it is time for O-fune-sama.One year, however, the inevitable happens and there is retribution for the town's crimes.Shipwrecks is a horrifying and tragic book that unfolds slowly and deliberately. Because the village situation is grim and its needs are clear, Isaku's grasp of the situation is understandable; the reader can definitely sympathize...and empathize. And this is what makes the inevitable punishment so personally tragic and sad, yet so very morally justified.

Evocative, disturbing, and wonderfully well written

Whether you are a fan of Japanese literature or not - I happen to be one - this book is probably worth your time. A short read, it nevertheless manages to convey a very compelling and disturbing story of life in medieval Japan. The story is essentially an illustration of karma at work, but divulging any more than that would give away too much of the story. It reminded me a great deal of The Plague by Albert Camus - both books use similar plot devices to make similar points about human nature, morality, and the tenuous nature of human existence. Yoshimura does an excellent job of conveying a strong sense of place, personality, and a continuously mounting tension that keeps you turning the pages. A great read.
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