Taken as a list of ingredients, the book is right up my alley: -Landmark document in the history of kink,...moreI would like to love this book, but I do not.
Taken as a list of ingredients, the book is right up my alley: -Landmark document in the history of kink, the book which led Krafft-Ebing to term erotic pleasure derived from pain "masochism" -Divulgement of the author's treasured fantasies, hashed out with nearly fannish enthusiasm -Classic exploration of sadomasochism, submission and control -Indulges in uniform fetishism and service submission, favorites of mine, as well as the titular heavy furs -Set in the wind-bitten peaks and valleys of Eastern Europe and the avenues of Florence -Includes a really gorgeous male character, the descriptions of whom feel very homoerotic indeed -Advances feminist principles at a relatively early date -Puts in a good word for us Jews, at a time when we were not widely loved or admired (nor particularly well-treated)
All that said, the ingredients turn out to be of poor quality, and not especially well-synthesized. It could have worked out quite well as a meticulously-crafted narrative poem, amping up the dreamy and unreal aspects of the story for aesthetic effect, or as an involving psychological novel, forgoing dreaminess for realism and impact; as it stands, Sacher-Masoch's novella has neither the artful verbiage to be really poetic, nor the character and relationship development to be psychologically real and potent. I didn't find the progression of Severin and Wanda's relationship at all convincing. Her sudden transformation from vanilla lady to Sinister Ice Domme of Evil was pretty ridiculous, and the ending even more so. That the characters are more ideals than fleshed-out people would have been fine if the construction of the book were particularly strong in other ways, but it unfortunately isn't.
To top all of that off, the gender concepts presented are painfully simplistic. Sacher-Masoch seems to have his heart in the right place, but there is much room for sophistication here that is instead filled with romantic, broad-brush pronouncements.
A trailblazing erotic classic to be sure, but it leaves much to be desired as a piece of fiction in my kinky eyes. For a really impactful classic of kinky lit, The Story of O is much superior.
It could easily turn out that I was simply reading the wrong translation...(less)
Hadashi no Gen is one of the all-time classics of golden age manga. It began when Keiji Nakazawa, one of the origin...moreI've wanted to read this for years.
Hadashi no Gen is one of the all-time classics of golden age manga. It began when Keiji Nakazawa, one of the original crop of shonen manga (boys' comics) artists inspired by Osamu Tezuka, published a 45-page autobiographical story entitled Ore wa Mita ("I Saw It"). The story outlined his experiences as a child survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima - as an aside, it was translated and published in pamphlet form in 1982 by Educomics and is very much worth reading in and of itself, if you can get your hands on a copy. I found mine at the gift shop of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Nakazawa's story was published as part of a series of autobiographical manga, and was apparently a success, as his editor asked him to start a long series on the subject. He did so, this time fictionalizing the story somewhat, changing names and tweaking events to suit the needs of the story. It ran to 10 volumes in the English translation, and I should say that as of writing this review I have read only four (in addition to I Saw It).
Barefoot Gen is a product of a time when long-form manga on serious subject matter was still a new thing, and it should be read with this in mind; Nakazawa was working with the visual vocabulary available to him at that point, which was still largely that of children's entertainments. The story initially ran in Shukan Shonen Jampu (Weekly Boys' Jump), an anthology magazine of comics for adolescent boys. It is drawn with a great deal of exaggeration and a substantial dose of humor, all of which the reader of grim historical tomes on Imperial Japan and Nazism may have some trouble swallowing, but such a reader may in turn be shocked that it does not shy away from or sugar-coat the subject matter one bit. Nakazawa's frankly adorable characters - Art Spiegelman correctly characterizes them as "dewy-eyed" - witness mounds of dead bodies, zombie-like half-dead atom bomb victims with their skin hanging off, mass burnings of human flesh, murder, rape. It is ordinary to see child characters dying of starvation, attempting to kill themselves, or wielding knives in defense of their parents. Sheer apathy towards the pain of bomb victims, really one of the wickedest crimes committed, is a constant theme. Nudity, too, is relatively commonplace - but this reflects differing ideas and standards of what is "decent" and appropriate for children between our culture and theirs. They, after all, are accustomed to communal bathing. We Americans are not.
Simple honesty, neither flinching nor lurid, has got to be this series' greatest strength. There is a sense of humanness that pervades the work, and that raw emotion - that straightforward communication of human feeling - is so effectively delivered that I am able to forgive with relative ease the obvious illustratorial shortcomings from which the work suffers - the artist's inability to properly depict a child's or baby's chest, for example, or his limited ability for posing and facial expression (a weakness from which I also suffer).
This is not to say that Nakazawa's pictorial style is without merits. The backgrounds and environments he provides for his characters can be vivid and rhythmically intense, reflecting both his own memory and his influence from Osamu Tezuka (whose highly textural and curvilinear environmental drawings could serve as musical compositions). While his Tezuka-influenced exaggeration of poses and expressions suffers greatly from his own inferior drawing ability, his environmental drawings do not. While not quite Tezuka-caliber, they serve admirably in a story which is fundamentally about an environment - a city, a homeland - which, both socially and physically, explodes.
Of course, I love the styles of the Japanese comics golden age for their retro charm, being the Japanophile that I am. The oversized eyebrows, heavily lined eyes, and blocky features of Keiji Nakazawa's male figures remind me of Takao Saito's extremely long-running classic assassin manga Golgo 13, which started at around the same time (and runs to this day!). Pioneering works and styles in any art form tend to hold a special charm, and the work of Keiji Nakazawa is no exception.
Barefoot Gen was not just a milestone in manga, but in the journey of Japanese comics to American shores, it having been translated and published here by a team of volunteer peace activists just a couple years after the end of its run in the mid-70s. This made it one of the first manga to be released in English.
The translation is okay, but the lettering is frankly nonexistent. It is hard at times to tell whether a block of preachy and simplistic dialogue is the fault of the translators (who were anti-war activists) or the author himself (who was an anti-war atom bomb survivor targeting a juvenile audience). Either way, if you're not part of the choir he's mostly preaching to, you really need to read this series - and maybe you'll be singing in the peace chorus by the end.(less)