ONCE AND FOREVER: THE TALES OF KENJI MIYAZAWA BY KENJI MIYAZAWA, TRANSLATED BY JOHN BESTER
Reminiscent of the anthropomorphic animals that inhabit Aesop’s fables, Kenji Miyazawa’s tales in Once and Forever are set in a world where some animals talk, wear clothes, and interact with humans on a regular basis. Miyazawa, though considered a popular children’s author in Japan, is very much a fable writer for adults. Since his death in 1933, his popularity has continued to rise, with much of his work adapted into film and anime. His stories, while whimsical, often leave readers to navigate their dark endings—there are no didactic morals attached to these tales, though the ghost of some unlearned lessons may haunt the characters, as well as readers. “The Bears of Nametoko” is one such tale. Here, Kojuro doubts his need to kill the bears for their healing livers, and the bear who kills Kojuro questions his own act of preservation. Or in another story that haunts, “The Restaurant of Many Orders,” two starving hunters find an unlikely restaurant, in the depths of the woods, but when the orders posted on the restaurant’s door ask them to remove their clothes and then season themselves, they begin to wonder who the clientele of this establishment actually is . . . Translated from the Japanese by the late John Bester, Miyazawa’s tales are modern fairy tales that will interest readers of all ages.
—Review by Lucas Palmer