Monday, January 4, 2010
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
The story: In two separate, but connected stories, a hard life follows the victims of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing during World War II. In the first story, it's been 10 years since the bomb changed her life, but Minami still feels guilty for living when so many died, including her father and sisters. When she finally finds love, it's unfortunately short-lived. Decades later and Minami's brother has two children, Nagio and Nanami. One day, Nanami and her childhood friend, Toko, tail her dad as he visits Hiroshima. It is here that Nanami learns the truth behind the relationship between her brother and her friend, and how, no matter how much time has passed, the bomb continues to affect everyday life.
Reaction: This is an amazingly touching story that illustrates the lingering specter of war. I cried throughout this story; it's hard not to. While this story serves as a tribute to those who died and those who survived, it never becomes overly sentimental or sappy. It's a sincere reflection of life following a dark moment in human history, and how the will to live and love can help overcome violence, war and death.
Deep thoughts: The United States dropped "Little Boy," a nuclear bomb, on August 6, 1945, on Hiroshima, and "Fat Man" on August, 9, 1945, on Nagasaki. The atomic bombings and the subsequent tens of thousands of deaths caused by it prompted the Japanese surrender and the end of World War II. Since then, many have died of radiation poisoning and other related diseases, including leukemia and cancer. Because of the bombings, Japan has one of the strongest nuclear non-proliferation policies in the world and it continues to work towards abolishing nuclear weaponry worldwide.
Artwork: This book opens with some beautiful watercolor pages and is followed by pages drawn simply in pen. The thinly penned art uses no screentone and relies on cross-hatching for shadows and the like. Of course, this story requires no embellishment, considering the content. Fumiyo Kouno imparts a sense of place easily, with detailed panels showing the shanty Minami lives in and the changes in Hiroshima as time goes on. Characters are drawn similarly, but it makes sense considering the family the story followed. It's also easy to recognize flashbacks, with their grey coloring keeping readers from being confused with the present-day story.
The verdict: Required reading. This is a story everyone should read, in order to better understand the fateful events of World War II and our own humanity. Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is available in the U.S. from Last Gasp.