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Why A 19th Century American Slave Memoir Is Becoming A Bestseller In Japan’s Bookstores

16 November 2017

From Forbes:

No one imagined that the Japanese translation of the book, Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs (1861), would become a long-selling hit in Japan when it was first published in 2013. It is the life story of a slave girl in the United States in the 1800s, and not something one would expect to strike interest in Japan, which while struggling with its own issues of race, has a 98% ethnically Japanese population.

And the woman who would push for the book to be translated and published in Japanese, Yuki Horikoshi, had no background in literature or translation, and at first found it difficult to find a willing publisher. “I didn’t meet the profile for what an author should be and it was hard to explain why this book was so compelling.”

The book is now on its eighth edition in hardback and was published in paperback this summer. In its first month in paperback, it sold 25,000 copies, a remarkable feat for a book of its genre. It’s what in Japan is called “a quiet bestseller.”

. . . .

“I had gone to school in the United States and yet I had never heard of this book, nor really understood slavery. It was an eye-opening experience.”

. . . .

In the protagonist’s resolution to fight against inequality and make herself a place in the world, Horikoshi saw inspiration for young Japanese people, especially women.

. . . .

In order to make the book accessible and appealing to Japanese young women, she hired her own illustrator, Brian Cronin, who’s worked with Oprah Winfrey, and paid him out of her own pocket. “I specifically told him: don’t put a slave theme on the cover.”

. . . .

In the slave’s description of her life and the persistence of her master, Horikoshi sees a statement of modern problems for many women.

“If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse. That which commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the degradation of the female slave. … My master met me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged to him, and swearing by heaven and earth that he would compel me to submit to him.”

Link to the rest at Forbes


2 Comments to “Why A 19th Century American Slave Memoir Is Becoming A Bestseller In Japan’s Bookstores”

  1. Just more proof that no one knows what will sell or why it sells.

    And since trad-pub is sifting through less gravel and rocks, they’ll be finding less gold nuggets too …

  2. Never before heard of Harriet Ann Jacobs, Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl. Picked it up at Amazon. Looks like a compelling read.

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