Annal: 2006 Kiriyama Prize for Nonfiction

Results of the Kiriyama Prize in the year 2006.

Book:The Reindeer People

The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

Piers Vitebsky

Since the last Ice Age, the reindeer’s extraordinary adaptation to cold has sustained human life over vast tracts of the earth’s surface, providing meat, fur, and transport. Images carved into rocks and tattooed on the skin of mummies hint at ancient ideas about the reindeer’s magical ability to carry the human soul on flights to the sun. These images pose one of the great mysteries of prehistory: the “reindeer revolution,” in which Siberian native peoples tamed and saddled a species they had previously hunted.

Drawing on nearly twenty years of field work among the Eveny in northeast Siberia, Piers Vitebsky shows how Eveny social relations are formed through an intense partnership with these extraordinary animals as they migrate over the swamps, ice sheets, and mountain peaks of what in winter is the coldest inhabited region in the world. He reveals how indigenous ways of knowing involve…[more]

Book:Crossing Three Wildernesses

Crossing Three Wildernesses: A Memoir

U Sam Oeur, Ken McCullough

In a harrowing but ultimately triumphant affirmation of the human spirit, celebrated Cambodian poet U Sam Oeur narrates his incredible life story, testifies to the horrors of genocide and shares his fervent prayers for peace and freedom through the process of democracy.

Born in 1936 to a large and moderately prosperous farming family, Oeur spent his childhood herding water buffalo and tending rice paddies in the lush Cambodian countryside. He was educated under the French colonial system and selected to attend California State University in Los Angeles. While in the United States, he awakened to the possibilities of the democratic ideal and went on to receive his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Upon returning to Cambodia in 1968, Oeur married, became a captain in Lon Nol’s army, served in the National Assembly…[more]

Book:The Golden Spruce

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed

John Vaillant

As vividly as Jon Krakauer put readers on Everest, John Vaillant takes us into the heart of North America’s last great forest, where trees grow to eighteen feet in diameter, sunlight never touches the ground, and the chainsaws are always at work.

When a shattered kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited island, they reignite a mystery surrounding a shocking act of protest. Five months earlier, logger-turned-activist Grant Hadwin had plunged naked into a river in British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands, towing a chainsaw. When his night’s work was done, a unique Sitka spruce, 165 feet tall and covered with luminous golden needles, teetered on its stump. Two days later it fell.

The tree, a fascinating puzzle to scientists, was sacred to the Haida, a fierce seafaring tribe based in the Queen Charlottes. Vaillant recounts the bloody history of the Haida and the early fur trade, and provides harrowing details of the logging industry, whose omnivorous violence would claim both Hadwin and the golden spruce.

Book:Isami's House

Isami's House: Three Centuries of a Japanese Family

Gail Lee Bernstein

In this powerful and evocative narrative, Gail Lee Bernstein vividly re-creates the past three centuries of Japanese history by following the fortunes of a prominent Japanese family over fourteen generations. The first of its kind in English, this book focuses on Isami, the eleventh generation patriarch and hereditary village head.

Weaving back and forth between Isami’s time in the first half of the twentieth century and his ancestors’ lives in the Tokugawa and Meiji eras, Bernstein uses family history to convey a broad panoply of social life in Japan since the late 1600s. As the story unfolds, she provides remarkable details and absorbing anecdotes about food, famines, peasant uprisings, agrarian values, marriage customs, child-rearing practices, divorces, and social networks. Isami’s House describes the role of rural elites, the architecture of Japanese homes, the grooming of children for middle-class life in Tokyo, the experiences of the Japanese…[more]

Book:A Man with No Talents

A Man with No Talents: Memoirs of a Tokyo Day Laborer

Oyama Shiro, Edward Fowler

San’ya, Tokyo’s largest day-laborer quarter and the only one with lodgings, had been Oyama Shiro’s home for twelve years when he took up his pen and began writing about his life as a resident of Tokyo’s most notorious neighborhood. After completing a university education, Oyama entered the business workforce and appeared destined to walk the same path as many a “salaryman.” A singular temperament and a deep loathing of conformity, however, altered his career trajectory dramatically. Oyama left his job and moved to Osaka, where he lived for three years. Later he returned to the corporate world but fell out of it again, this time for good. After spending a short time on the streets around Shinjuku, home to Tokyo’s bustling entertainment district, he moved to San’ya in 1987, at the age of forty.

Oyama acknowledges his eccentricity and his inability to adapt to corporate life. Spectacularly unsuccessful as a salaryman…[more]

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