The Plum Rains (Paperback)
And Other Stories
“Japan in the 17th century was a relatively peaceful place, unified by the Tokugawa family in 1601 after many centuries of feudal warfare. The resultant peace, however, left many men who had lived by the sword, the samurai class, out of work, and since samurai were not permitted to work at anything else, many became destitute and roamed the countryside; some even turned their hands to poetry and calligraphy. This stability also ensured the rise of the merchant classes, an explosion of the arts from theatre to poetry, and a growth in trade for courtesans who inhabited ‘the floating world of desire’. It is into this remote world and in particular the last decade of that century, that John Givens breathes a whole new life, in his book of short stories exploring the characters of that era, from courtesans to bandits, monks, brigands and rogue samurai.... Givens is not just a gifted storyteller – these stories are freighted with a deep knowledge and cultural understanding of Japan....Givens' prose and dialogues are so authentic that it's almost as if these stories were handed down or were translated from original sources.” – Joseph Woods, The Irish Times
It's Japan. The last decade of the 17th century. Men who lived by the sword find themselves without a vocation while women begin to confront new opportunities and threats hitherto unimaginable. The austere demands of the haikai poet are no match for the new popularity of urban performers, and the medieval samurai ethos has been replaced by that of the merchant and the shogun's bureaucrats. This colourful but remote world is portrayed in these stories. Japan's greatest poet Basho features in several of them. We also meet young 'peony girls' who yearn for a life outside the pleasure quarters; a rogue samurai who seeks solace in wine, in the supposed serenity of haikai poetry, in the rigours of Zen Buddhism, and finally in his own acceptance of the impossibility of regaining the past. Another, more murderous samurai evolves into what modern yakuza gangsters see as their historical essence. A mysterious 'daughter of the palace' struggles with an unbearable remorse; a senior government official seeks to preserve Basho's poetic legacy; a teenage sociopath tries to carve out his own career by cutting a bloody swathe across the landscape; and, a bizarrely preternatural pariah supervisor brings his own understanding of things with surprising and sometimes horrifying results. The Plum Rains and Other Stories brings to life a uniquely beautiful and violent world.