Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Book Review: Narrow Road to the Interior

Narrow Road to the Interior by Matsuo Basho

About a year ago I went searching for a book on Basho, considered Japan's greatest haiku poet. I came to know of Basho's haiku through one of my now favorite movies, My Neighbors the Yamadas. The movie incorporates several of Basho's haiku in a manner that showcases many of the simplicities of daily life.

It took me awhile but I finally came across this book which was translated by Sam Hamill, a great poet in his own right. The book is so small that it feels like I'm reading a post-it note pad more than an actual book. It is considered the masterpiece of Basho's career and one of the most revered classics of Asian literature. It is merely a travel diary of his journey through the villages and mountain temples of the northern interior of Japan. It is beautiful, but not what I expected nor wanted. I couldn't relate or imagine life in the late 1600s and thus had difficulties reading the diary portion. The descriptions of the temples and traditions made me miss the temple I walked by everyday while in Tokyo. And there were aspects of the writing that made me realize how much I truly admire Japanese culture. The haiku were at times more geographical and nature oriented than those I remember from the film. And so I was left wanting more and wondering if the movie gave me a distorted image of Basho's work. Not all was lost however. The prose and imagery have a calming effect that brought many evenings of relaxation and was how I chose to finish the short book. Deep breaths in a literary form. Just what the doctor orders sometimes.

Kim's Grade: A

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