5.0 out of 5 stars Literate ghosts and demons
“Tales of Moonlight and Rain” (“Ugetsu Monogatari”) is such an incredible book. On the one hand, it is a fantastic and macabre collection of ghost and monsters, creepy tales of flesh-eating demons and honorable spirits. On the other hand, it is one of the great classics of Japanese literature, a book that only the literati of its time would be able to fully appreciate due to its dense prose and literary allusions that only an educated person would be able to easily identify.
It is a title that has seen print in English, in whole and in parts, several times, but it has always remained slightly out of grasp due to the difficulty in translating it. Author Akinari Ueda specifically set out to create a book that made use of the unique nature of the Japanese language while building on literary and historical sources from both Japan and China. Some translators emphasize the horror nature of the book, some the literary, but it remains a tough nut to crack.
Translator Anthony H. Chambers has taken a shot at it, in a form designed to capture the feel of Ueda’s writing while annotating the edition enough so that modern readers will be able to understand the allusions. In an interesting tact, he has used both footnotes and end notes, with the footnotes being the information immediately necessary to understand the story, and the end notes being the “behind the scenes” information that adds depth and understanding but doesn’t advance the tale. Each story is also preceded by historical and political context, so that one can understand the general mood of the times in which the stories are set.
This scholarly approach might put off some readers who are just looking for some enjoyable ghost stories, but I found it to be an elegant and successful solution. The stories of “Tales of Moonlight and Rain” are short enough that I read them through once without the end notes, just to enjoy the feel and flow of the tale, then read them through again paying attention to the small details and annotations.
I have a few versions of “Tales of Moonlight and Rain”, and this is by far the best. The all-important tone of the book is captured, without awkwardness or strangeness in the English. Along with that, it is almost a textbook to Ueda’s masterpiece, and can be read as such.