Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature, 1868-1937


Purloined Letters: Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature, 1868-1937, by Mark Silver, an engaging study of the detective story’s arrival in Japan—and of the broader cross-cultural borrowing that accompanied it—argues for a reassessment of existing models of literary influence between “unequal” cultures. Because the detective story had no pre-existing native equivalent in Japan, the genre’s formulaic structure acted as a distinctive cultural marker, making plain the process of its incorporation into late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Japanese letters. Silver tells the story of Japan’s adoption of this new Western literary form at a time when the nation was also remaking itself in the image of the Western powers. His account calls into question conventional notions of cultural domination and resistance, demonstrating the variety of possible modes for cultural borrowing, the surprising vagaries of intercultural transfer, and the power of the local contexts in which “imitation” occurs.

“This is an impressive book, which casts the early history of Japanese detective fiction within the broader context of Japanese cultural and political modernity. Through his close analysis of three central figures—Kuroiwa Ruiko, Okamoto Kido, and Edogawa Ranpo—Silver demonstrates the complex ways in which detective fiction in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was used to reflect upon new ideas, represent the past, and reveal Japan’s newly ‘modern’ society in grotesque and frightening ways. Lucidly argued and elegantly written, Purloined Letters will become essential reading for scholars of detective fiction, Japanese literature, and translation studies more generally.” —Amanda Seaman, author of Bodies of Evidence: Women, Society, and Detective Fiction in 1990s Japan

April 2008 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3188-2 / $52.00 (CLOTH)