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

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  173 ratings  ·  33 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, 1st, 196 pages
Published 2008 by Columbia University Press
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Jim Coughenour
Mar 06, 2010 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
Jan 10, 2009 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
Jan 07, 2008 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 ...more
Apr 20, 2019 added it
As I have enjoyed a long relationship with Japan, Prof Donald Keene's thorough and sensitive telling of his studies about Japan, time as a US Navy interrogator of Japanese prisoners, world travels, and his many, many tales of learning from, and partying with, the most esteemed of all Japanese scholars and authors (Mishima, Tanizaki, Kawabata, Oe, Abe, et al), this book touched my heart. The autobiography includes personal accounts of the background considerations leading to his most interesting ...more
Arvind Radhakrishnan
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is easily one of the best memoirs I have read.Donald Keene's erudition is truly astounding.I had started exploring Japanese literature seriously after reading his essays and books. So it was a treat to read about his life and experiences as a Japanologist. Through his wise insights he has transmitted to the world the beauty of Japanese literature. Keep teaching us Keene-san!
Charlie Canning
Apr 25, 2013 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
Aug 15, 2010 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 ...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
Feb 15, 2013 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 ...more
Masanaka Takashima
Nov 24, 2012 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
Apr 17, 2012 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 24, 2013 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
Sep 14, 2008 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 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 ...more
Jan 20, 2013 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...
Feb 01, 2013 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.
Oct 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Love Japan. Love this book.
Alexander Páez
Oct 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Me resulta extraño explicar por qué este título me ha gustado tanto. Tal vez sea porque Keene, un intelectual poderosísimo y probablemente uno de los mejores japanólogos que vio el S.XX, sabe construir un relato absolutamente literario incluso de manera inconsciente. Puede ser su humildad, el presentar todos los logros de su vida como hechos con la relevancia justa, hechos por la pasión y el trabajo y sin ninguna ambición más que el puro conocimiento y mostrarlo a los demás para que puedan ...more
Anson Cassel Mills
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
First a disclaimer: I know nothing about Japanese literature, and I read Keene’s autobiography only because I am fascinated with people who are gifted at mastering other languages, especially difficult ones. (Apparently even some Japanese were surprised to discover that Keene read their language.)

Donald Keene (1922-2019) was a lucid writer who chronicled his life with grace and modesty. As is typical with academic autobiographies, the general reader will probably find Keene’s early career more
Dec 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I finished reading this during typhoon Hagibis in Tokyo. I really loved this book! Donald Keene is my hero!
**It was the perfect book to read as an American trying to make my way in Japanese life. I was struggling with motivation and why I was even there and this helped me to remember why I love Japan so much.
Kira Gant
May 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Muy recomendable.
Oct 26, 2018 rated it liked it
I’m sorry, this was a very interesting life story told in a very boring way.
Jul 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
(My first full read on a Kindle, but that is beside the point.)

What is there to say about autobiographies? Plenty, yes. But at the same time, the author of which can present their life in whatever way they deem necessary. Sometimes that is fabrication for whatever purpose, other times it is filled with references to diaries one has kept.

Though Donald Keene has not kept a diary, so he states in this, I believe all the events in this book to be true. I do not see a reason for him to lie.

Patrick Wallace
Jan 03, 2014 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
Oct 11, 2009 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 ...more
Nov 29, 2015 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
Dec 23, 2014 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 ...more
Nov 02, 2014 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
Jun 08, 2012 added it
This book is dripping with nostalgia of simpler times.
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Donald Keene was an American-born Japanese scholar, historian, teacher, writer and translator of Japanese literature.