(From the publisher):
Kumagai Naozane was a Japanese warrior famous for having taken the head of the young and handsome samurai Atsumori. This episode has become one of the best-known and best-loved in the Tale of the Heike
, the great medieval epic of the twelfth century and a work central to Japanese literature.
The seasoned warrior, struck by Atsumoriís beauty, nonetheless forces himself to dutifully kill the boy--then in contrition becomes a priest, never to fight again. This anecdote is celebrated, endlessly sung and written about, and often pictured and dramatized in both the Noh and Kabuki; but is the popular and sentimental tale true--and if so, in what way?
In this brilliant historical reconstruction of the life and times of Kumagai, Donald Richie asks that very question. Purporting to be the recently discovered memoirs of the warrior himself, Memoirs of the Warrior Kumagai is a fictional version of Kumagaiís own attempt to come to terms with his past--the real past which is his and that other past which he in his priestly retirement hears the monks inventing as they compose the lay which will eventually become the Tale of the Heike.
As the warrior remembers his past and compares it to its finctional parallel, he evokes the wonders of the city of Heiankyo (Kyoto); the wars which raised the Taira (Heike) clan to power under the general Kiyomoro and later reduced it to ruin at the hands of Yoritomo and the Minamoto (Genji) clan; the battles at the Uji River; life in the imperial court of the retired emperor Go-Shirakawa; and the naval encounter and Dannoura, where the infant emperor Antoku was delivered to the depths of the sea.
At the same time Kumagai must confront this alternate account, which eventually becomes the only one. He writes: "I want to put my life some kind of order and to create a permanence where none exists." In so doing he has to determine the meaning of his life. Always curious as to what shape it would take, this brave, impatient, prosaid, and pragmatic warrior finds that he must decide who he will become.
Original title: Memoirs of the Warrior Kumagai: A Historical Novel
Genre: Fiction→ Historical→ Asia→ Japan