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Novels > Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel

First published in 1976, Sombrero Fallout was Richard Brautigan's seventh published novel and the third to parody a literary genre. Subtitled "A Japanese Novel," it featured two interrelated stories. The first was about a sombrero falling from the sky and its affect on humanity. In the second story, the narrator of the first thinks about his Japanese ex-lover who had recently moved out of his apartment.

Dedication
Dedication reads:
This novel is for Junichiro Tanizaki who wrote The Key and
Diary of a Mad Old Man
Tanizaki Junichiro (1886-1965) was a Japanese novelist.

Front cover New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976
5.5" x 8.25"; 187 pages; ISBN 0-671-22331-3; First printing 1 September 1976
Hard Cover, with dust jacket
Light rose paper covered boards; Deep rose embossed titles on front cover and spine; Rose end papers
Front dust jacket color illustration by John Ansado of a Japanese woman

Back dust jacket photograph by John Fryer of Brautigan sitting on a rock. This was one of several photographs taken of Brautigan by Fryer, at Brautigan's Montana ranch, in 1974, to capture an image for use on Brautigan's then forthcoming novel The Hawkline Monster.

Proof Copy
Proofs (86 pages) in printed yellow wrappers
Uncorrected proofs in tall, "pad-bound" format reported, with title written on spine.

Front cover London: Arena Books, 1987
192 pages, ISBN 0-099-39110-4
Printed wrappers
Front cover
Edinburgh, Scotland: Canongate Books Ltd., 2012
200 pages; ISBN: 0857862642; First printing 2 August 2012
Introduction by Jarvis Cocker

READ the full text of this introduction.
London: Jonathan Cape, 1977
192 pages; ISBN 0-224-01371-8; First printing 31 March 1977
First United Kingdom Edition Hard Cover, with dust jacket
Front dust jacket photograph by Erik Weber of Mia Hara
Front cover Edinburgh, Scotland: Rebel Inc., 1998
192 pages; ISBN 0-862-41801-1; First printing 15 June 1998

Reprinted
Front cover Edinburgh, Scotland: Rebel Inc., 2001
208 pages; ISBN 1-841-95137-4; First printing 20 August 2001
Printed wrappers
Introduction by Kevin Williamson

READ the full text of this introduction.
Front cover London: Picador Pan Books Limited, 1980
187 pages
Printed wrappers
London: Picador Pan Books Limited, 1978
192 pages; ISBN 0-330-25548-7; First printing 3 November 1978
Printed wrappers
Front cover New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976
187 pages; 5.25" x 8"; ISBN 0-671-23025-5
Printed wrappers

Front cover De Ijskoude Sombrero. Trans. Jos Knipscheer. Bussum: Uitgeverij Agathon, 1978.
First Dutch edition
151 pages
Printed wrappers
Front cover illustration by Micha Joseph
Bourgois editions
Retombées de Sombrero: Roman Japonais. Trans. Robert Pépin. Paris: Bourgois, 1980.
First French edition
202 pages; ISBN 2-264-01059-2
Printed wrappers

Additional Resource
Lottman, Herbert R. "France: A Growing Taste for Anglo-American Authors." Publishers Weekly 4 September 2000: 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62-63.
An overview of the publishing industry in France and its interest in American writers. Notes that publisher Christian Bourgois says
"there's a new generation of French critics&mdasah;and book buyers—curious about what comes out of America and prepared to embrace it." Bourgois . . . is one of the rare publishers in France (or anywhere for that matter) publishing under his own name—and independent. Not being able to afford the greats, Bourgois began with writers of his own generation, such as Richard Brautigan. (62)
Bourgois published several French translations of Brautigan's works including Trout Fishing in America, In Watermelon Sugar, The Hawkline Monster, Willard and His Bowling Trophies, Sombrero Fallout, Dreaming of Babylon, The Tokyo-Montana Express, So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away, and Revenge of the Lawn.
10-18 editions
Front cover Retombées de Sombrero: Roman Japonais. Paris: 10-18, 1999.
ISBN: 2-264-01059-2
Printed wrappers
Front cover illustration is a detail from a photograph by Hideki Fuji
Retombées de Sombrero: Roman Japonais. Paris: 10-18, 1991.
Retombées de Sombrero: Roman Japonais. Paris: 10-18, 1987.
Front cover Sombrero von Himmel: Ein japanischer Roman. Trans. Günter Ohnemus. Reinbek by Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag (rororo 13126), 1994.
125 pages; ISBN 3-499-13126-9
Printed wrappers
Reviews
Herfurth, Peter. "Richard Brautigan: Sombrero vom Himmel."

READ this review, in German.

Online Resource
This review at the Atlan Club Deutschland website
Front cover Sombrero von Himmel: Ein japanischer Roman. Trans. Günter Ohnemus. Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn Verlag, November 1990.
186 pages; ISBN 3-821-80163-8
Printed wrappers and end flaps
Cover illustration by Henri Schmid

Front Cover Heljarslóðar Hatturinn: Skáldsaga. Trans. Hördur Krisjansson. LaFleur: Reykjavik, 2005.
Front Cover Sonburero rakkasu: aru nihon shosetsu. Trans. Kazuko Fujimoto. Tokyo: Shobunsha, 1985.
Front Cover Upadek sombrera. Powiesc japonska. Trans. Jan Zielinski. Warszawa [Warsaw]: Wydawnictwo Tenten, 1992.
First Polish edition
Printed wrappers
Front Cover Sombrero Fallout. St. Petersburg: Azbooka, 2006.
208 pages; ISBN: 5-91181-016-6
Printed wrappers
7.0" x 4.5"
Front Cover Sombrero Bir Japon Romaný. Trans. Melis Oflas and Zekeriya S. Sen. Istanbul: Altýkýrkbes Yayýncýlýk, 2006.
First Turkish edition
Printed wrappers
In addition to the specific reviews detailed below, commentary about this book may also be included in General Reviews of Brautigan's work and his place in American literature, or reviews of his Collections.

Ackroyd, Peter. "Whimsies." Spectator [London] 238(7761) 2 April 1977: 27-28.
Reviews Reunion by Fred Ulhman, The Girl in the Picture by Diana Melly, and Sombrero Fallout by Brautigan.

READ the full text of the reference to Brautigan.
Adams, Phoebe-Lou. "Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan." Atlantic November 1976: 118.
The full text of this review reads
Mr. Brautigan's novel proceeds on two levels. On one, a neurotic comic novelist mopes over his Japanese mistress, who has left him because "the upkeep was too complicated." On the other, the scraps in the wastebasket compose their own bloody fantasy. The meaning of all this is oblique and the style is relentlessly clever. As the author himself points out, "After a while non-stop brilliance has the same effect as non-stop boredom." Reckless of him.
Agosto, Marie-Christine. "Sombrero Fallout: Structure Narrative." Les Cahiers de Fontenay December 1982: 28-29.
Anonymous. "Brautigan, Richard." Choice January 1977: 1433.
The full text of this review reads
Brautigan is a sort of last gasp of the Beat Generation who has managed to adapt himself to changing literary tastes and pose as one of the masked men of experimental writing. His virtues are a poetic imagination that is often sheerly stunning in its casual connections, and a whimsical offhandedness in dealing with heartache that is, quite probably, distinctively Californian. His latest novel: a "surface" novelistic predicament, involving a lovelorn humor writer without a sense of humor, gives birth to a subplot involving a large-scale explosion of violence in a small American town; reading the second plot as outcome of the first provides a sort of critical rationale. The heroine of this "Japanese novel" (it is being simultaneously published in Japan, for reasons not likely exceeding the superficial) is the writer's former lover, and she sleeps her way through this short fiction like one of Kawabata's sleeping beauties. Easy and enjoyable reading.
—. "Brautigan, Richard." The Booklist 15 September 1976: 120.
The full text of this review reads
Absurdity plays against pathos to the chunky rhythm of blunt, declarative sentences. A riot scene mushrooming from a dropped sombrero alternates with memories of the hero's failed love affair. His Japanese lover's dreams provide frequent pace-changing interludes; Norman Mailer's appearance at the riot adds a touch of understated humor. Brief, ingenuous, the novel seems to follow Brautigan's eccentric muse wherever she leads, with little show of resistance.
—. "Brautigan, Richard." Kirkus Reviews 15 July 1976: 805.
The full text of this review reads
"There's more to life than meets the eye." In books. Some books. Brautigan's books? which aren't really books—just whimsical annotations in the form of vignettelets. This one, subtitled "A Japanese Novel" and dedicated to Tanizaki isn't really very willow-patterned. It's about an American humorist, "dashing tears forth" after his pretty Japanese lover of two years, a pyschiatrist, leaves him and he's left alone—tearing up pieces of paper and dropping them in a wastebasket where they look like origami or vacillating between a hamburger and a tuna fish sandwich. Outside in San Francisco, however, all hell breaks loose in the form of a disorderly riot with national repercussions. Oh yes, that sombrero, size 71/4—it drops to earth in the first paragraph. Is it your size? after all Brautigan hasn't really changed his since the first novel or two. This is a just a little book with the pretty phrases and the pieces of paper—they're either in your hand on down there. Mostly it's just a kind of sentimental seppuku [ritual Japanese suicide] for those that are still around.
—. "Paperbacks: New and Noteworthy." The New York Times Book Review 15 January 1978: 27.
The full text of this review reads
A writer who won considerable following in the 60's essays a "Japanese novel"—on one level the tale of a writer moping because his mistress has left him, on another, a fantasy told through scraps in his waste basket. Clever in spots, but—our reviewer wondered—is the clan still there?
Bannon, Barbara A. "Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel." Publishers Weekly 26 July 1976: 68.
The full text of this review reads
In San Francisco late one evening an American humorist sits at his typewriter composing a fable: "A sombrero fell out of the sky and landed on the Main Street of town in front of the mayor, his cousin and a person out of work. . . ." Temporarily blocked, the humorist discards page one. Then he moons about his apartment bemoaning the end of his two-year love affair witih a Japanese woman. Meanwhile, in the wastebasket, the fable takes on a spontaneous life of its own and escalates into an epic of American machismo. The page-one characters argue about who will pick up the sombrero, townspeople join the dispute, local police arrive, followed by state police. A riot develops, and eventually the U.S. Air Force is bombing the town. The riot fizzles out; the humorist switches his talents to composing a country-western song about his "little lady from Japan." An amusing trifle for Brautigan fans.
Beaver, Harold. "Dead Pan Alley." The Times Literary Supplement [London] [3916] 1 April 1977: 392.

READ the full text of this review.
Bednarczyk, A. "Brautigan, Richard." Best Sellers (36) January 1977: 315.

READ the full text of this review.
Brooks, Jeremy. "Eight of the Best." The Sunday Times [London] 3 April 1977: 40.
The full text of this review reads
Richard Brautigan's latest surreal fantasy Sombrero Fallout scarcely qualifies as a novella, let alone as a novel. It has so much white paper unsullied by print among its pages that complex mathematical calculations were required to arrive at its true cost—an outrageous 11.6 per 1,000 words. In this book Mr. Brautigan flirts more dangerously than ever with that seductive siren, wry sentiment, a tone which assorts oddly with his sombre message about the mindless violence that lies dormant in any crowd, ready to be released by any such common event as a black sombrero falling from a clear sky. An expensive curate's egg for some, but a satisfying meal-in-itself, no doubt, for addicts.
Carr, Adam. "Mexican Hats Miss Their Mark." The Times [London] 30 May 1977: 19.

READ the full text of this review.
Casey, Charles. "A Zany, Three-Stage Plot Under One Sombrero." St. Louis Post-Dispatch 16 January 1977: 4B.

READ the full text of this review.
Christgau, Robert. "A Frigid Hat, A Dead Architect and Two Smart Dicks: Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel." The New York Times Book Review 10 October 1976, Sec. 7: 4.

READ the full text of this review.

Reprinted
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 9. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1978. 123-125.

Online Resource
Christgau's review at his Robert Christgau website
Clay, Carolyn. "Stetson Stunts." Boston Phoenix 21 September 1976: 15, 23.
Beneath the golden arches of Richard Brautigan's imagination, Mark Twain and Tim Leary might meet for a burger. . . . . Sombrero Fallout has a plethora of bizarre, precious imagery that delights the stoned.

READ the full text of this review.
Cüpper, Mélanie. "Less Is More or Less: Richard Brautigan: Willard and His Bowling Trophies—A Perverse Mystery, Sombrero Fallout—A Japanese Novel." Bulletin de l'Association des Germanistes diplômés de l'Université de Liège (15) March 2003: ***?***.
A summary of Cüpper's longer study of Brautigan.

READ this review.
Daum, Timothy. "Brautigan, Richard." Library Journal 101(17) 1 October 1976: 2084.
The full text of this review reads
Only Brautigan could squeeze 2.5 plots into so little space, call the concoction a novel, and still maintain the bittersweet insanity that has marked his work from the very beginning. Try, for instance, in your head to intertwine these stories: one hour in the life of an American humorist who is mourning having been left by his Japanese girlfriend; include in this story scenes of his meeting her for the first time, various images of her now making love with other men, and the excruciating impact of finding one of her hairs in his apartment. Add a sombrero which falls from the sky, has a temperature of 24 degrees below zero, and is the cause of an entire town going berserk and battling it out with U.S. troops. This turns out to be the story the American humorist is writing at the time. Add further: the Japanese girl, asleep in bed, and her cat, who gets hungry. It may be Brautigan's shortest novel, but there isn't a page that won't make you scratch your head, smile, or want to start it all over again.
Also reviews Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork in an earlier issue of Library Journal.

Reprinted
The Library Journal Book Review 1976. Ed. Janet Fletcher. New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1977. 619.
Edwards, Thomas R. "Books in Brief: Five Novels." Harper's October 1976: 100-101.
Reviews Bear by Marian Engel, The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, Flight to Canada by Ishmael Reed, The Widow's Children by *** Fox, and Sombrero Fallout by Brautigan.

The full text of the reference to Brautigan reads
In Richard Brautigan's Sombrero Fallout, "a very well-known American humorist" tries to write about a small town's eruption into bloody riot when a weird hat falls from the sky. Then the story is discarded (it, however, keeps writing itself in the wastebasket) as he turns to tender reminiscences of his lost Japanese girlfriend and anxieties about food and literary reputation. As a Barthelme-like exercise in discontinuous modes, lyrical, topical, and confessional, the book is amusing but somehow self-cancelling. The parable about mindless public violence is too harmlessly droll, the love story too sentimental, the portrait of the artist too routinely self-loathing. Remembering Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America, I would be glad to like Sombrero Fallout better, but his charm seems to be increasingly calculated.
Reprinted
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 12. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1980. 57-74.
Glendinning, Victoria. "Enter, Pursued by a Bear." The Observer 3 April 1977: 26.
Reviews Bear by Marian Engel, The Man from Next Door by Honor Tracy, The Little Medicine Bottle by Allan Turpin, Nobody's Fault by Mervyn Jones, Scawsby by John Drabble, and Sombrero Fallout by Brautigan.

The full text of the reference to Brautigan reads
The central figure of Richard Brautigan's Sombrero Fallout is a humorist with no sense of humour who has been deserted by his Japanese girl-friend. He remembers their lovemaking, and mourns over one of her long black hairs. Crosscut with this, with deadpan surrealism, is the tale of a national holocaust which stemmed from a sombrero that fell from outer space in a small town; the humorist tore up the story when grief struck, but it goes on writing itself in the waste-paper basket. The chapters are very short. There are a lot of half-blank pages. It is most unsubstantial and equivocal, not really very funny, not really very sad. But Sombrero Fallout is subtitled "A Japanese Novel" and all the foregoing strictures could be made by the uninitiated about, say, a haiku. Some of Brautigan's novels have been marvellously inventive; but perhaps, like the hero of this book, he is not sure quite what it is that makes him laugh, or cry. On that basis, you can't win them all.
Howard, Phillip. "Fiction." The Times [London] 14 April 1977: 12.
The full text of this review reads
There is a grave embarras de choix in fiction this week, with too many good books competing for too little review space. Brautigan's new "Japanese novel" is a brilliant, funny, and strange whimsy about a heartbroken American humourist with no sense of humour whose discarded short story about a sombrero takes on a life of its own. It is as clever and delicate as a masterpiece of origami.
Lingeman, Richard R. "Getting a Fix on Fall Books." New York Times Book Review 29 August 1976, Sec. 7: 6-7.
Anticipates the fall publication of new books from several American novelists. Concludes with a brief reference to Brautigan's novel Sombrero Fallout.

The full text of the reference to Brautigan reads
We can definitely report that the title of Richard Brautigan's new novel is Sombrero Fallout. Groovy. Otherwise, a season that numbers among its authors Solzhenitsyn, Bellow, Mailer, Arnold Toynbee, Erich Fromm, Norman Vincent Peale and Liberace can't be all bad, can it?
Mount, Ferdinand. "The Novel of the Narcissus." Encounter 48(6) June 1977: 51-58.
Reviews I Would Have Saved Them if I Could by Leonard Michaels, Marry Me by John Updike, The Painter of Signs by R. K. Narayan, The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez, The Lake by Yasunari Kawabata, The Bread of Those Early Years by Heinrich Böll, Peter Smart's Confessions by Paul Bailey, Kith by P. H. Newby, and Sombrero Fallout by Brautigan.

The full text of the reference to Brautigan reads
American fiction specializes in the artistic arrangement of junk, often on a scale which recalls the Watts Towers in California. The humble artisan who built those fantastic towers out of old bits of tin cans and crockery is of course far removed in degree of awareness from the conscious literary artist. He celebrates the glory of creation by picking up the junk which others have dropped, for even the junk is part of that glory. The American literary artist is different. He picks it up because it is junk. He is a merchant of Dreck. He does not assert that the fragments are beautiful; on the contrary, he takes delight in asserting that they are Dreck, shit, crap. It is a key principle of modern American fiction that no lump of excrement is going to get away with pretending to be good rich earth. The principle may be directly expressed in excremental language as in Mailer or more obliquely as in the whimsical put-downs of Vonnegut and Brautigan. But it always manifests itself in a steady determination not to be enchanted by the appearances of the external world—objects, systems, peoples. This stance is not the same as the old European cults of nihilism, absurdism or even skepticism, for it implies no pessimistic overall world-view. The assertion that the world is full of shit excludes the observer himself. The cynicism about the external world contrasts with an unbounded sentimentalism about the inner world of the self. The novelist-hero is a rooster on a midden.

Richard Brautigan's latest novel, Sombrero Fallout, is about an American humorist who is said to have no sense of humor. But of course he has a sense of humor. Look at his jokes. He is having trouble writing. But he isn't really having trouble. Look at his book. Even a piece of paper bearing an idea for a story which he tears up and throws on the floor takes on a life of its own. It is a story about a sombrero which causes a civil war. It is not a very good story. That doesn't matter. The American humorist can think of hundreds more stories in the same way that, although he has been left by his latest (Japanese) girlfriend, he can pick up hundreds more girlfriends just as he picked up her. In his junk-world, reality is conferred on objects, human and otherwise, only by the touch of the free-floating ego. Everything else is, as Gore Vidal puts it in his perceptive essay, "American plastic" (New York Review of Books, July 15, 1976). "The author tries not to be himself a maker of dreck but an arranger of dreck." And there is no higher compliment that one American modernist can pay another than to say, as William Gass says of Donald Barthelme, that he "has the art to make a treasure out of trash." All art, in Michael Moorcock's phrase, constantly aspires towards "the condition of Muzak"—or ought to.
Sarcandzieva, Rada. Precistvastijat Smjah Na Ricard Brotigan. Cudovisteto Hoklan; Edno Sombrero Pada Ot Nebeto. [The Purifying Laugh of Richard Brautigan in Monster and Sombrero.] Sofia: Narodna Kultura, n.d.
Review of Brautigan from a Bulgarian perspective.
Shapiro, Laura. "Atwood, Brautigan, and Reunions." Mother Jones 1(9) December 1976: 62-63.

READ the full text of this review.
Stewart, Joan Hinde. "Sombrero Fallout, A Japanese Novel." Magill's Literary Annual. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1978. 785.

READ the full text of this review.
Treglown, Jeremy. "Kithflicks." New Statesman 8 April 1977: 471.
Reviews Kith by P. H. Newby, The Painter of Signs by R. K. Narayan, Nobody's Fault by Mervyn Jones, and Sombrero Fallout by Brautigan.

The full text of the reference to Brautigan reads
Knee-buckling oriental perfumes and the Eastern woman's natural grace and rhythm in general are big topics this week, though I found the breezy Aunt Nadia's [from Kith by P.H. Newby] attractions more convincing than those of Yukiko, the subject of Richard Brautigan's canton of contemned love. Sombrero Fallout offsets a love story almost medieval in its sentimental idolatry with a fantasy about a UFO—the sombrero of the title—that manages to produce a small civil war in ten easy stages. Brautigan's comic touch is predictably unerring and the hilarious narrative development is studded with wry surreal gags ("He never lacked things to worry about . . . If he taught all his worries to sing, they would have made the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sound like a potato.") The Yukiko bits, though, kept reminding me of that sticky moment in every variety show when the lights go pink and the compère flattens his hair, shoots his cuffs, slips the mike out of its stand and huskily lets rip on "You Made Me Love You."