Book Review: Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination

Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo, translated by James B. Harris 

If you enjoy the horror works by the legendary  Edgar Allan Poe, this collection featuring nine of Edogawa Rampo’s best short stories, described as the author’s homage to Poe, may well give you your horror fix.

The stories are not as macabre as some of Poe’s works, so those with a weak stomach, take heart. They are mostly short, which makes them great entertaining little stories even for those who lack the time and focus to read. The stories are creepy and nicely crafted, with a few that stand out. “The Human Chair” in particular, has received plenty of praise from fans, and readers in their chairs might feel goose bumps all over while reading. “The Caterpillar” is unique in the sense that it differs from your typical horror story. It is about a war veteran who has lost his limbs, become severely disfigured, deaf, mute and dumb, and has to rely on his increasingly resentful wife for his daily needs. Aside from the horrific twist at the end, the main horror depicted in this short story is the helplessness and lack of independence that many handicapped people still experience today, especially in countries with less developed technologies.

The shock factors aren’t there just to shock. The stories are also meaningful in focusing on the duplicity and complex psychology of human nature. Overlooking the incredibility of some of the plots, the situations explored are realistic possibilities, stark reminders of elements of horror that still exist in the real world, which is what makes a horror story truly frightening.

This dark collection of stories makes an entertaining read that can be finished in a few nights. The only complaints are that  the stories are fairly simplistic, lacking technical complexity and some of the endings are too convenient.

Despite being a translation, the stories read smoothly, and display good narrative craftsmanship. This is explained in the introduction, which describes how the author and translator met up once a week over a period of five years to work on getting every line right. Harris recalls perspiring over his type-writer, experimenting with sentence after sentence until Edogawa was satisfied that the translation was true to what he wanted to portray in meaning and nuance.

– These book reviews first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.


The Mentors in Our Lives

The Chinese philosopher Confucius said ”三人行必有我师”. Literally, it means that among three people walking together, at least one of them can be my teacher. We can learn from just about anyone around us. From the friendly fishmonger at the market to your helpful neighbour, to the insurance agent friend, each person has their own unique wealth of knowledge and expertise awaiting others to tap on.

Of course, there are also the mentors who leave more permanent imprints in our lives. In September, we celebrate the dedication of teachers, who not only impart academic knowledge and skills, but also important values that shape our character. These are the people who guide us through the awkward teenage and young adolescent years. We might benefit from their advice and graduate with flying colours, or it might take years before their words of wisdom hit home. In any case, their stories stay with us for life.

At home, parents and older siblings are our very first teachers. Consciously or subconsciously, they impart to us many seemingly simple yet significant nuggets of knowledge. Life experiences, cultural insights, virtues, ethics, behaviours and more… we often mirror our loved ones. But there comes a time when we grow up and get a little too conceited. If we reel ourselves back in time, we could gather many useful life lessons and insights. If we ignore them and do not give our elders the respect they deserve, we will have to learn the hard way.

For those who are working, let us also not forget our bosses, supervisors or seniors, who share with us their experience relating not only to the job, but also important matters in life like work-life balance and helping you to get along with co-workers and clients. Good bosses will show you that no job is too trivial or undignified. Make use of the opportunities you are given, even if they are small, and you will open up many more doors.

As the world gets more connected and saturated with all sorts of information, having a strong moral foundation and being discerning of what you see and hear has never been more crucial. Some of the messages we received are negative and falsehoods, and if one is easily swayed, the outcomes can be disastrous. Just look at the examples of the young men and women who plot heinous crimes to harm their fellowmen. In times of doubt, if we are fortunate to have good role models and mentors in our lives, their teachings would help us to turn back up the right path.

So taking all the above into consideration, if we look around us, there is a virtually bottomless treasure chest of wisdom to be harvested. The million dollar question is, how can I benefit from it?

To be able to listen is a gift, and an often underrated one. These days many people are too preoccupied with proving themselves and defending their existing knowledge and accomplishments. If we are too close-minded to listen, we will never gain new insights and knowledge. So open your ears and refrain from trying to talk over others. The term mentor can potentially apply to anyone who crosses your path in the lifelong journey of learning.

On the hindsight, be mindful about your behaviour and the information you share. Refrain from acting recklessly or disseminating information without care for authenticity. You never know, someone might be looking up to you as a mentor.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.

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