The Book of the Dead - Orikuchi Shinobu

Minnesota Press

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The Book of the Dead - Orikuchi Shinobu, translated by Jeffrey Angles / ISBN 9780816688104 / 338-page paperback published by the University of Minnesota Press


"At once a work of innovative fiction, written in an evocative and poetic style, as well as a remarkably astute recreation of the natural, mental and spiritual world of Japan’s ancient civilization, The Book of the Dead, long recognized as a modern classic in that country, is now widely accessible for the first time to readers everywhere, thanks to this eloquent translation by Jeffrey Angles. Orikuchi’s work will prove fascinating to any reader with an attraction to literature, anthropology, psychology, or history. There is no other work quite like it in the whole modern Japanese canon."—J. Thomas Rimer, University of Pittsburgh

First published in 1939 and extensively revised in 1943, The Book of the Dead, loosely inspired by the tale of Isis and Osiris from ancient Egypt, is a sweeping historical romance that tells a gothic tale of love between a noblewoman and a ghost in eighth-century Japan. Its author, Orikuchi Shinobu, was a well-received novelist, distinguished poet, and an esteemed scholar. He is often considered one of the fathers of Japanese folklore studies, and The Book of the Dead is without a doubt the most important novel of Orikuchi’s career—and it is a book like no other.

Here, for the first time, is the complete English translation of Orikuchi’s masterwork, whose vast influence is evidenced by multiple critical studies dedicated to it and by its many adaptations, which include an animated film and a popular manga. This translation features an introduction by award-winning translator Jeffrey Angles discussing the historical background of the work as well as its major themes: the ancient origins of the Japanese nation, the development of religion in a modernizing society, and the devotion necessary to create a masterpiece. Also included are three chapters from The Mandala of Light by Japanese intellectual historian Andō Reiji, who places the novel and Orikuchi’s thought in the broader intellectual context of early twentieth-century Japan.

The Book of the Dead focuses on the power of faith and religious devotion, and can be read as a parable illustrating the suffering an artist must experience to create great art. Readers will soon discover that a great deal lies hidden beneath the surface of the story; the entire text is a modernist mystery waiting to be decoded.

Orikuchi Shinobu (1887-1953) was a Japanese ethnologist, linguist, folklorist, novelist, and poet. As one of the foremost early twentieth-century experts of Japanese folklore and Shinto, he has exerted vast influence over modern intellectual discourse. Many of his novels and collections of poetry are classics of Japanese literature.

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