Sunday, October 27, 2013

March Was Made of Yarn, edited by Elmer Luke and David Karashima

Subtitled Reflections on the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown, March Was Made of Yarn is a collection of short pieces (mostly short stories) written in the aftermath of the 3/11/11 triple tragedy in Japan. The first story, "The Island of Eternal Life," by Yoko Tawada, is set circa 2021; Japan has been cut off from the rest of the world since 2015. Operating without electricity, the people have come to rely once again on wood-block printing; doctors work by the light of fireflies in their desperate efforts to find a cure for radiation sickness. The government has been privatized, leaving the people even less sure about its claims that no radiation is escaping from the abandoned nuclear power plants. It is a catastrophic vision of life after the triple tragedy.

Other stories are more "in the moment," focusing on what happened during and immediately after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. My favorite story, "The Charm," by Kiyoda Shigematsu, focuses on Machiko, who 40 years ago lived in a town nearly destroyed by the tsunami. The events of 3/11 leave her depressed; as others in Tokyo return to their normal lives, she struggles. Finally, she decides to visit the devastated town, not sure what she will do there but compelled to go nonetheless. What happens there reconnects her with her childhood, in touching ways. Much about this story reminded me of the way it felt to live 2000 miles from New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania in the months following 9/11.

Another story I liked a lot was "Lulu," by Shinji Ishii, in which ghostly women and a dog that may or may not be real, a ghost, or a figment of 32 children's shared imagination comfort children traumatized by the tsunami. While stories featuring ghosts don't generally appeal to me, this one was gentle, mysterious, and quite lovely.

Among the book's other pieces are an angry manga by Brother and Sister Nishioka ("Their so-called democracy is just a system of excuses for profit, an alibi for apathy"); Hiromi Kawakami's prize-winning story about a picnic with a bear, which the author has rewritten to be set in a forest contaminated with radioactive material; two lovely poems; and much more. A few stories gave me that "hunh?" feeling when I got to the end, but overall the authors have, as the editors put it, "seen through the thick haze of the moment to clarity."

Favorite passages

Words grown old from overuse
Come alive again with our pain
Grow deep with our sadness
As if backed by silence
They grow toward new meanings
(From the poem "Words," by Shuntaro Tanikawa)

I've come to feel, however, that hope isn't something that permeates the whole. Hope isn't born all at once, like buds erupting in spring; nor does it envelop the landscape like freshly fallen snow. . . .

I think that maybe hope is like one of those little eucalyptus leaves. You suddenly become aware of its existence and potential; you figure out what you need to do, and you set goals; you gather information and knowledge and, if necessary, capital; and then you take action. Whatever the scale of the project, the buds of hope at first seem tiny--insignificant and unreliable. There's no way to be sure that hey'll really  blossom. But once you make the first step forward, possibilities begin to take shape and show themselves. . . .

Buds of hope are definitely popping out, one by one.
(From the essay "Little Eucalyptus Leaves," by Ryu Murakami)

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