Friday, August 26, 2016

New book in the former native speaker's library

I already had Harry A. Franck's A Vagabond Journey around the World (1910) and Roaming through the West Indies (1920), but I've been wanting to get Glimpses of Japan and Formosa (1924) for awhile.

I did a little Googling research about the book and found a few reviews that came out around the time the book was published. The reviews were mixed. A couple were relatively positive:
  • A February, 1925 review in The Bookman; A Review of Books and Life praised the book: "Here are no stilted observations, but lively human snapshots of life as lived by the Joneses and Smiths and Browns of Japan and Formosa. Exit the intriguing politician and the fanatical high priest, and enter the bourgeoisie, with the homely eccentricities as common to every people as the provincialisms of the national tongue. It can be truly said of 'Glimpses of Japan and Formosa' (Century) that its glimpses ring true and, in so far as the lay mind can tell, are faithful reproductions of Far Eastern life."
  • A February 13, 1925 review in Journal of the Royal Society of Arts says that Franck "has a quick eye for noticing things of interest and a bright, pleasant way of telling them." The reviewer notes that Franck appears to have been able to see "a good deal" of Taiwan, as well.
The others that I found, however, were quite critical of Franck's book:
  • A May, 1925 review in The Geographical Journal argues that Franck "needs a longer residence in the Island Empire before he can fill the gap [in observations of the "New Japan"] with much success." "Mr. Franck," the reviewer continues, "says little enough that has not been said before, and he is not always well informed when he makes original remarks--as, for instance, when he states that independence is regarded as 'not even worth thinking about' by the Chinese-Formosans."
  • A note in the September, 1925 issue of Political Science Quarterly calls the book "interesting" and "human and humorous," but concludes that it is "the utterance of a stranger describing strange things rather than a comprehending analysis by one who through years of association has become an understanding friend." 
While I admit that my search for reviews only scratched the surface, what struck me about these reviews was that three of them were from academic journals. It was surprising to me that, for instance, The Geographic Journal would take Franck's travel writing seriously enough to review Glimpses of Japan and Formosa. I don't imagine an academic journal in geography or political science nowadays would devote space to reviewing, say, Paul Theroux's The Happy Isles of Oceania.

I did find some more recent scholarship that made use of Glimpses, though. Rachel Snow, in a 2006 dissertation on "vernacular photo-travel books," uses some images from the book although it appears that the bulk of her discussion of Franck is based on Roaming through the West Indies. Paul Barclay, in his 2010 article on "image-making in Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule," cites Franck in a couple of places, but he doesn't analyze the book in depth.

Finally, I'd note that Franck's descendants have developed their own website about the travel author. It shares some information about his biography and his service in the Second World War.

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