Yoshihiro Tatsumi shows his skills as a storyteller with this collection of eight moral comedies. Each of the stories is a form of rakugo, a tale told and retold over many generations which changes according to the mood and skills of the teller. In "The Innkeeper's Fortune," a well-dressed but penniless man talks his way into room and board, promising to pay later. When the innkeeper sells him what becomes a winning lottery ticket, he pretends he doesn't want such a little amount and remains in debt. In "Escape of the Sparrows," a young artist pays for his room by painting a screen with sparrows that then take flight in the morning. The innkeeper and his wife make a bundle of money showing off the screen until an older artist, the father of the first one, arrives and shows how the sparrows need something to alight on when they return to the screen. His solution sets up a culturally specific pun (he is a "cage drawer" or traveling thief) that was not instantly obvious to me, but nonetheless makes for a good story.
Why I picked it up: I had read of Tatsumi’s recent death and wanted to read another one of his books.
Why I finished it: These stories bothered me (in a good way) by being unpredictable in their pacing and plot twists. They did not always have tidy or conclusive endings, and could ramble on a bit in ways I didn’t anticipate. In "Fiery Spirits," a devoted husband decides to take on a mistress much to the shock and chagrin of his wife. She lays curses on the mistress, who fights back with her own curses. They both finally die, and the man must pay for two funerals. Then he is haunted by two fireballs that even the local Buddhist priest cannot exorcise. He finally gets between the two fireballs and asks them to calm down and light his pipe. The wife-spirit complains that of course the mistress spirit lights the pipe better than she. Weird.
It's perfect for: Jonathan. As the father of a high-energy child, he will like "New Year Festival," in which a bratty boy makes his father take him to a festival and buy him sweets and a kite. When the father takes the kite and enjoys flying it so much that he declines to share it with his greedy son, the boy complains that his dad shouldn't have brought him at all.