Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

Published in English by Last Gasp, 'Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms' by Fumiyo Kouno, had quite the impact on me for such a short book. At only 104 pages, it tells the story of two generations that had to deal with the lingering effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The first part of the story follows a young woman named Minami as she goes through her daily life in Hiroshima, ten years after surviving the bombing. Plagued with survivors guilt and images of that terrible day, Minami often wonders why she survived, and so many others didn't. She also wonders if she is even deserving of love and happiness, to the point that she actually rejects a potential love interest. And even when she finally realizes that it is okay for her to enjoy life, the aftermath of the awful bomb won't ever end...

The second part of this story jumps ahead thirty-two years, and deals with Minami's niece, Nanami, as she encounters the still lingering aftermath of the bombing. In 1987 Tokyo, young Nanami goes to school, plays on the baseball team, talks of future dreams with friend, Toko Tone, and at first glance, is seemingly rid of the aftereffects of the bombing that the previous generation had to deal with. Though with her brother and grandmother in and out of the hospital, one can't help but to think the bomb is to blame for their health problems. Jumping ahead again 17 years later, Nanami is a working woman, long separated from her childhood friend Toko, because they had to move closer to a hospital for her brother's health. Though her brother is now perfectly healthy, and a doctor in training. Nanami notices that her father has been acting strange lately, and decided to follow him on one of his "walks". Running into Toko Tone, who is now a nurse at the same hospital that her brother is training at, together they continue to follow Nanami's father, all the way to Hiroshima. On this trip, Nanami comes to learn of and remember things that bring the impact of the bombing to the forefront of her life, even fifty years after the fact. Mainly, the discrimination of atomic bomb survivors and their children.

This story, while short, was packed with thought provoking material. Most noticeable is the strong anti-war and anti-nuclear weapon message. Though the way this is conveyed is not in your face or preachy. It's more of a secondary effect of seeing the horrible impact the bomb had through a slice-of-life type story. The most striking part of this story for me was the issue of discrimination of bomb survivors and their children. They are called "Hibakusha", which means "explosion-affected people". People incorrectly believed that the radiation sickness due to the bombing was hereditary and contagious. Because of this false way of thinking, Hibakusha and their children have been treated terribly. Refused jobs and outcast from society by their fellow countrymen, they had to endure this unjust treatment on top of the physical effects of the bomb. It's just too much. I can't imagine how it must have felt. This issue with "Hibakusha" is something I didn't know about until reading this book, and while saddened at how low humanity can go, I'm glad to have learned of this. From the afterward by author, Fumiyo Kouno, I gathered that even within her own country, people outside Nagasaki and Hiroshima didn't truly know about the ravages of the bombings and that it is a "subject best avoided". To me, this books shows that it is important to learn of this "terrible tragedy from the past", never forget it, but still be able to move on. In that way, this saddening story with quite tragic subject matter, also educates and we are left with a positive message that gives us strength and hope.

I found the art work in this book to be very well done. While simple in style, it is very beautiful and detailed. The haunting images of the direct bombing aftermath are done in a non-graphic way, that still carries great impact. Backgrounds are full of intricate line work that compliments the characters in the forefront, never distracting from them. Because of my lack of vocabulary, my go to word for art styles that aren't realistic is "cartoony". I don't really think that does this art justice though. Luckily, you don't have to rely on my failure to describe the art to you. You can check out a free preview over at JManga to judge the art for yourself, while getting a small taste of the story at the same time.

This is a book that I feel very comfortable recommending. I would go as far as to say that this isn't only required manga reading, but required comic reading. Being so short, and carrying with it universal emotions and messages, I could see this book being very easily accepted by a non-manga reader. Have a box of tissues at the ready though, because I think this story will invoke some tears from even the hardest of hearts.

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