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April 04, 1993|CHARLES SOLOMON

SHIROBAMBA: A Childhood in Old Japan by Yasushi Inoue, translated from the Japanese by Jean Oda Moy (Weatherhill: $12.95; 200 pp.). For the title of this autobiographical novel, Yasushi Inoue chose the name of a gauzy insect that appears at twilight--a delicate metaphor for the charms of the past he seeks to recapture. The scion of a well-to-do provincial family, 7-year-old Kosaku is being raised by the eccentric "Granny Onui" (not a blood relative but the former mistress of his great-grandfather). The days pass swiftly as he learns his first lessons about love and death, and how the world beyond his village is greater than he can imagine. Although Kosaku represents Inoue as a boy, the author seems more interested in drawing an affectionate portrait of rural Japan in the early 20th Century than in recounting specific experiences. Moy's warm translation makes it easy to understand why "Shirobamba" has remained popular in Japan since its initial publication in the early '60s.

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