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Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan

4.13  ·  Rating Details  ·  104 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews
Hailed as the 'leading expert on Japanese literature' by the New York Times Book Review, Donald Keene has devoted more than half a century to the study and appreciation of Japanese art and culture. This memoir chronicles his extraordinary life and intellectual pursuits.
Hardcover, 196 pages
Published May 19th 2008 by Columbia University Press
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Jim Coughenour
Jun 17, 2010 Jim Coughenour rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
Any American reader of Japanese literature owes a debt to Donald Keene, an eminent translator and long-time professor at Columbia. My first encounter with his translations (over 25 years ago) was Essays in Idleness by the Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō, a book I still unearth from time to time.

Keene's memoir is, in most respects, a quiet tale of an uneventful life. Other than serving as an interpreter for Japanese prisoners during World War II, the highlight of Keene's life seems to have been traveling
...more
kkurtz
Jan 09, 2008 kkurtz rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
this is a wonderfully heartfelt & humble memoir from the pre-eminent Japanese Scholar. Keene recounts how he fell into his love for the Japanese culture & language quite by accident, but how those early events would shape the rest of his life. The reader gets a vivid picture of the often solitary life of a working scholar, as well as glimpses into Keene's friendships with leading Japanese writers of the day. Writers like Mishima, Kenzaburo Oë, & Kobo Abe. The book was originally writ ...more
Contando Dragones
Nunca antes había leído una biografía, ni tampoco una autobiografía, como es el caso, pero creo que si la persona es lo suficientemente interesante y tiene suficientes cosas que contar, puede ser una lectura muy interesante.

Nada de fantasía ni relatos maravillosos (en el sentido más imaginativo de la palabra), simplemente hechos realistas que no llegan a ser del todo cotidianos. Como digo, si la persona es interesante, puede ser una gran lectura.

Esto es lo que me ha pasado con este libro. Adoro
...more
Patrick Wallace
Jan 03, 2014 Patrick Wallace rated it really liked it
Donald Keene is one of the premier translators and scholars of Japanese literature. If you have read Mishima or Kawabata in English, likely it was in a book that he either translated or edited. He is also an important literary critic in the Japanese language, making him one of the very few westerners who is celebrated within Japan for works originally written in Japanese.

His memoirs are beautifully written, and form an important record of his life and his interaction with some of Japan's best mo
...more
Darryl
Aug 17, 2010 Darryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Chronicles of My Life" is a short autobiography and memoir written by Donald Keene, who is arguably the leading American scholar of Japanese literature, poetry and theater. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature at Columbia University, where he has taught for over 50 years, and he has written several dozen books about Japanese history, culture and literature, including "Modern Japanese Literature", "Twenty Plays of the No Theatre" and "Five Modern Japanese Novelists". His lat ...more
Natalie
Mar 11, 2009 Natalie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: newly-read-2009
How did I not write a review of this?! Probably because I have too much to say about it, but a lovely memoir. It often shocks me that when I'll be talking to a fellow self-professed student of Japanese and mention Donald Keene, they have no idea who he is! May they wonder no more through these handy dandy memoirs!

Still, this book is just lovely for ... so much. First, a look at Keene's amazing life. I smiled at his recollection of that cabin in the Carolinas where he first started studying Japan
...more
Charlie Canning
Sep 17, 2013 Charlie Canning rated it really liked it
For anyone studying Japanese culture, and especially Japanese literature, the name Donald Keene is a familiar one. In a career dating back to the 1950s, Keene has published more than thirty books of translation, criticism, and history. His latest offering, Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan (Columbia, 2008), is an autobiography that was first serialized in The Daily Yomiuri newspaper in 2006 as "Chronicles of My Life in the 20th Century."

Keene begins the narrative with his
...more
Caroline
Feb 15, 2013 Caroline rated it liked it
Donald Keene became one of the only American who has been allowed to be a Japanese citizen. He became a Japanese citizen at the age of 90. This is how and why I read about him in the NY times. He is a professor emeritus at Columbia where he taught for over 50 years. Japanese scholar, teacher, writer and translator of Japanese literature. It all begun after he had been an intelligence officer during the WWII. The book is a little disappointment because he doesn't speak a lot about him and about h ...more
Libby
Apr 17, 2012 Libby rated it really liked it
This is the autobiography of Donald Keene, a famous scholar of Japanese literature. I found the first 2/3 of the book very interesting, especially the stories of how Keene ended up studying Japanese language and literature. I found the last third of the book kind of boring, though--there is a lot of discussion of whose books he translated and who he visited with. It seemed at the end as if he felt he had to mention everyone who might be still living, or whose families would want to be mentioned ...more
Jason Keenan
Jun 27, 2013 Jason Keenan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan
What a wonderful journey and what a wonderful life. Donald Keene traces the chains of his long life (he's now in his 90s) that lead from sitting next to a Chinese student in his youth to a life as one of the world's preeminent experts on Japanese literature (and quite the writer on culture and history as well).

His life and his career and his friendships with modern writers like Yukio Mishima, as well as his focus on the history of Japanese literature, will have you taking copious note for your t
...more
Masanaka Takashima
Nov 24, 2012 Masanaka Takashima rated it really liked it
I have come to like Mr Keene through this stunning memoir. Chapters where he meets my literary heros like Kenich Yoshida and Arthur Waley excited me a lot, but I enjoyed the earlier development of how he met and learned Japanese language, and joined the US Navy as a linguist officer working in war-operations against Japan. There he translated huge amount of various Japanese sources into English. Among them were killed Japanese soldiers' diaries. Japanese soldiers were encouraged to keep a diary ...more
Bruce
Sep 14, 2008 Bruce rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Japan
Professor Keene's memoir is all the more powerful because of his understated style. Anyone who has lived in Japan will get a lot out of this, as will anyone who translates for a living. This is a memoir that actually has a lot to impart to its readers. It inspired me to both continue translating Japanese writers and to try to maintain even closer ties with Japan. His anecdotes about working with and becoming friends with Mishima, Abe, Tanizaki, Oe and others give us a fascinating glimpse of the ...more
Karl Lion
Mar 16, 2013 Karl Lion rated it really liked it
I've finished reading the book. I love many parts in it which I cannot tell you without citing almost the whole book that are still so alive and vivid in my mind. It thrills me a lot as if I've met in person with Mr. Keene. I've made a plan to read other books of his and of those he mentioned in this one. I especially love the conclusion he made for the book as well as for his life: "I hope that this chronicle, for all its deficiencies, has at least suggested how one human being spent an essenti ...more
Blake Baguley
Jan 20, 2013 Blake Baguley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Received this book as part of a prize after meeting Mr Keene himself as well. It's really amazing to read about this man's life. Even though he might seem slightly reserved or retiring, it's clear that he didn't let anything hold him back all these years! The people he met, the times he experienced, they're all so fascinating. Definitely inspiring. I wonder who's going to be able to top his achievements in this field in the coming years...
Tim
Aug 05, 2013 Tim rated it liked it
Good quick read. To fully enjoy it, some knowledge of famous Japanese figures (especially from the literary world) may be required. He also talks about opera and theater a bit more than I was expecting, but overall I was satisfied, and I particularly enjoyed the illustrations.
Oleg Kagan
May 30, 2014 Oleg Kagan rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan
I'm a fan of scholar autobiographies because I tend to identify with pursuits of the mind, applying myself to academic interests on a regular basis, if less fervently than Keene and others. Thus this book, about the foremost American scholar of Japanese Literature, was exactly right for me.

Chronicles of My Life doesn't go very deeply into Keene's personal life (it's rather a more "modest" memoir), nor does is it an encyclopedic account of his days, instead it jumps from anecdote to anecdote in
...more
Mark
Dec 23, 2014 Mark rated it it was amazing
I rather liked this book although it has no particular purpose other than giving a quite honest account of Keene's relationship with Japan. For those who are interested (and the topic is interesting for anyone with intellectual leanings), Keene lists the Japanese cast of probably one of the most troublesome but at the same time expressive periods of Japanese cultural history. This came about because of Japan's loss of the Pacific War and submission, culturally as well as politically to foreign i ...more
Bruce
Dec 02, 2015 Bruce rated it it was amazing
As a biography of a person who has lived a fantastic life both observing, and participating as a key member of the modern Japanese literati, I consider this essential reading for anyone interested Japanese literature (modern or historic).

It's hard to overstate the impact Keene has had on making Japanese literature available not only to the non-Japanese world, but more broadly to those outside academia.

By itself that would make his biography worth reading but then there is the extraordinary ran
...more
Kazen
Nov 06, 2014 Kazen rated it really liked it
Have you ever read an obituary of a semi-famous person and think, "Hey, this person was awesome! Why didn't I know about them?" That's the way I feel about Donald Keene, though (thankfully) he's still alive and kicking.

Keene is a translator, professor, and scholar of Japanese literature. Those who know even a little bit about post-war writers like Mishima and Kawabata will love the anecdotes Keene relates. And anyone who has ever visited Japan, especially Kyoto, will enjoy his stories about what
...more
Erin
Oct 31, 2008 Erin rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Love Japan. Love this book.
Alexander Páez
IMPRESCINDIBLE.
meeners
Nov 02, 2009 meeners rated it really liked it
Recommended to meeners by: Natalie
oh keene-sensei! i think it was nattie who once said to me how strange and amazing it is to study in an academic field whose own history is right there, staring you back in the face. this is keene's account of his role in that history, and it is fascinating on that count. people looking for more lurid personal details won't get it here; you won't find shocking revelations about famous japanese writers, either. instead, you get one very carefully crafted and very deliberately edited version (by h ...more
AC
Dec 12, 2010 AC rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan
Well written, I suppose, and nice formatted - but inconsequential. There is an interesting story about the author's getting to know Russell in Cambridge - though the resulting anecdote is meager.
Jess
Jun 29, 2012 Jess rated it it was amazing
This book is dripping with nostalgia of simpler times.
George Clarke
George Clarke marked it as to-read
Jun 27, 2016
Michael
Michael marked it as to-read
Jun 17, 2016
Salvatore
Salvatore rated it it was amazing
Jun 02, 2016
Remila
Remila rated it it was amazing
May 25, 2016
Dillon Font
Dillon Font rated it really liked it
May 19, 2016
右田 萌々恵
右田 萌々恵 is currently reading it
May 14, 2016
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