Donald Keene, Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan
Columbia University Press, 2008
The first sentence of George Steiner’s first book (on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky) reads: “Literary criticism should arise out of a debt of love.” Donald Keene’s fascinating Chronicles of My Life tells the story of his love for Japanese literature over many decades. A few selections from the book point to his ardent commitment to reading, writing, and teaching.
When I think back on my life, it is clear that luck, rather than any decision made after long deliberation, has governed my life. The accident of sitting next to a Chinese in an undergraduate class awakened an interest in his country and later in all of East Asia, which has grown with the years until it is now the most important part of my life. The outbreak of the Pacific War, just at a time when I had begun to study Japanese, determined my whole life.
Japanese, which at first had no connection with my ancestors, my literary tastes, or my awareness of myself as a person, has become the central element of my life.
For me, the complicated way in which Japanese is written was one of its chief attractions. In fact, if Japanese were written in roman letters, I probably would not have felt the urge to conquer its difficulties. 27 Read the rest of this entry »