Keene’s unfinished love story found in NY home

The love story Keene began writing more than 50 years ago, found in his New York home in 2012.

A love story that distinguished Japanologist Donald Keene started writing more than half a century ago but ultimately abandoned to focus on his Japan studies was found in 2012 in his New York home as he was preparing to move to Japan, it has been learned.

Keene's novel depicts the romance that blossoms between an American woman who travels to southern France to end her life after a breakup, and a Japanese man who goes there for the same reason. He says it is the only novel he ever wrote.

Keene, who recently turned 92, wrote the story when he was 35. At the time, he was an associate professor at Columbia University and often traveled to Japan. He enjoyed reading novels by Japanese authors including Yukio Mishima and Kobo Abe.

"I found their novels stimulating, and I guess I started wanting to write one myself," Keene said.

In the summer of 1957, Keene wrote about 80 pages, each with 37 lines of text, in English at a retreat in upstate New York. He showed it to an editor at a publishing company and got some encouraging feedback. But despite being told it was "a good piece of work," Keene did not complete his novel.

"When I went back and read the story again, I lost my confidence in it," Keene recalled. "I felt that I should really concentrate on my research into Japanese literature, and so I just stopped writing the novel and put it aside. I didn't even give it a title."

The novel resurfaced in 2012, when Keene was tidying up his New York home after being naturalized in Japan. Seiki Keene, a prominent shamisen player formerly known as Seiki Uehara whom Keene adopted as his son last year, was sorting through a cupboard in the bedroom when he discovered the draft. It was with a critique Keene wrote on French author Gustave Flaubert when he was 17.

A detailed account of this episode will be in the 10th volume in a series on Keene's collected works, which is being published by Shinchosha Publishing Co. The volume will hit bookstores at the end of this month and also includes Keene's thoughts about life after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake disaster.

His unfinished love story is scheduled to be included in the 15th volume.