Two Novel­las of Ja­pan’s 3/11 Disas­ter

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Writers Of Color -

Kimura Yusuke, Doug Slay­maker (Trans­la­tor) Columbia Univer­sity Press (JAN­UARY) Soft­cover $20 (176pp), 978-0-231-18943-9, TRANS­LA­TION

The de­struc­tive earth­quake, tsunami, and nu­clear disas­ter that struck Ja­pan in March of 2011 may be grow­ing more dis­tant in the pub­lic con­scious­ness, but in Kimura Yu-suke’s Sa­cred Cesium Ground and Isa’s Del­uge, force­ful twin novel­las re­call the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the tragedy.

In “Sa­cred Cesium Ground,” Tokyo house­wife Hiromi de­cides to vol­un­teer at a cat­tle farm known as the Fortress of Hope in a ra­di­a­tion dan­ger zone. Dis­re­gard­ing de­crees to evac­u­ate the area and slaugh­ter ir­ra­di­ated live­stock, Hiromi and other vol­un­teers tackle the mon­u­men­tal task of car­ing for hun­dreds of cat­tle. In this night­mar­ish land­scape, the story ven­tures into ex­is­ten­tial ter­ri­tory. Is there a point in pre­serv­ing life that will even­tu­ally be sac­ri­ficed to com­merce or ex­pe­di­ence? And is Hiromi ready to aban­don her stul­ti­fy­ing mid­dle-class ex­is­tence, or is her stint on the farm merely a tem­po­rary de­tour?

“Isa’s Del­uge” takes place at a sea­side town still re­cov­er­ing from the tsunami. Salary­man Sho-ji has os­ten­si­bly re­turned for a high school re­union, but his true in­tent is to learn about his larger-than-life un­cle Isa, who was quite the tsunami him­self. Strug­gling to find a con­nec­tion be­tween his own un­ful­filled life and Isa’s com­bat­ive ex­is­tence, and af­flicted with mytho­log­i­cal vi­sions, Sho-ji’s em­barks on an odyssey that takes him into the heart of a dam­aged re­gion he has never fully un­der­stood.

Kimura’s crisp, to-the-point prose gets deep in his char­ac­ters’ heads, and al­though the is­sues he con­fronts in his novel­las do not lead to easy res­o­lu­tions, they both cul­mi­nate in mem­o­rable emo­tional out­bursts that sug­gest that the po­ten­tial for change is al­ways present. Sa­cred Cesium Ground and Isa’s Del­uge is a po­tent rep­re­sen­ta­tion of stub­born lo­cals and places that refuse to be for­got­ten, cling­ing to in­tegrity and hu­man­ity in the face of disas­ter and ap­a­thy. De­fi­ant and awake, Kimura’s work speaks softly and car­ries a wal­lop.

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