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Shanghai – A Novel 
by Yokomitsu Riichi, translated with a postscript by Dennis Washburn, Dartmouth College

“Filled with beautiful and disturbing imagery, [Shanghai] focuses on the lives of a group of Japanese expatriates living in Shanghai, a veritable cauldron of political and social unrest. . . . Dennis Washburn’s graceful translation is augmented by an insightful afterword.”
Publishers Weekly

“Deftly translated into English by Dennis Washburn . . . the novel’s sweeping depiction of a city that no longer exists as it did in the 1920s is a masterful and compelling re-creation of the past.”

“This book is a riveting read for anyone interested in Japanese Modernism and the development of the ‘subject’ in the Japanese novel. Shanghai is a tour de force of naturalistic writing, its terse prose involving all five senses to plunge the reader into the world of the novel. Washburn’s translation is to such a high standard that a cinematic feel to the story results. In the light of Washburn’s analysis [in his postscript], Yokomitsu’s ‘Modernist’ manifesto on subjectivity and objectivity attains clarity and context, which for this reader—above and beyond the fact that Shanghai is a good read in itself—makes this the best translation of a Japanese novel to be seen in years.”
Rachael Hutchinson in the
Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

Shanghai, published serially between 1928 and 1931, tells the story of a group of Japanese expatriates living in the International Settlement at the time of the May 30th Incident of 1925. The personal lives and desires of the main characters play out against a historical backdrop of labor unrest, factional intrigue, colonialist ambitions, and racial politics.

The author, Yokomitsu Riichi (1898-1947), was an essayist, writer, and critical theorist who became one of the most powerful and influential literary figures in Japan during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1924 Yokomitsu joined with Kataoka Teppei and Kawabata Yasunari to found the Shinkankaku-ha (New Sensation School). Shinkankaku artists looked to contemporary avant-garde movements in Europe—Dadaism, futurism, surrealism, expressionism—for inspiration in their effort to explode the conventions of literary language and to break free of what they saw as the prisonhouse of modern culture. No unified literary style emerged from the efforts of the school, but a key feature of its experiments was the use of jarring imagery that originated in the group’s fascination with the visual effects of cinema.

Yokomitsu incorporated the striking visuality of his early experimental style into a realistic mode that presents a disturbing picture of a city in turmoil. The result is a brilliant evocation of Shanghai as a gritty ideological battleground and as an exotic landscape where dreams of sexual and economic domination are nurtured.

Published by Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan
Michigan Monographs in Japanese Studies No. 33
Published 2001, 246 pp.
ISBN 1 929280 00 9, hardback, £32.00
ISBN 1 929280 01 7, paperback, £14.99