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Singular Rebellion by Saiichi Maruya; translated by Dennis Keene (Kodansha: $19.95; 430 pp.)

August 03, 1986|Andrew Weinberger | Weinberger is a novelist and frequent reviewer of Japanese fiction. and

"Singular Rebellion" may have won the coveted Tanizaki prize in Japan, but you won't be able to give it away in this country. What do you do, after all, with a comedy that's not even remotely funny? With a translation that reads more like directions on a package of instant tofu? With characters and plot twists that do nothing and go nowhere?

You try to explain it, that's what you do. You exonerate the author: You say that the Japanese language is an absolute gold mine of puns, double-entendres, nuances and innuendoes that rarely survive in the hands of an English translator.

This is true, but it won't help you unless you treat it as a warning to proceed at your own risk. By American standards, the plot is thin, TV fare, and dated even at that: Eisuke Mabuchi, a middle-aged widower who sells electrical goods, is finessed into marrying his much younger fashion model mistress, Yukari Nonomiya. Now, on the face of it, you might not think this is humorous. But in Japan, where propriety and social position count for a lot, when a salaried man in his 40s marries a fashion model in her 20s--what can I say?--they laugh.

For anyone who can sit through the lethargic pace, the visual drought and the frequent cliches ("Well, thank heaven for that, at least. Every cloud has a silver lining. I must say, Eisuke, your remark was rather abrupt, you know, like an arrow from the blue."), Maruya's tale does offer up some small sociological consolation prizes. But comedies, like most fine wines, just don't travel well, and this is one bottle in particular that should have stayed home.

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