Winner, G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction, selected by Jonis Agee
Fiction. Asian American Studies. Winner of the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction selected by Jonis Agee. "Based on dire events in Japanese history and the key of folktale Mariko Nagai has written stories of a stark and unforgettable human landscape. War, imprisonment, hunger, and betrayals are in these timeless narratives. In the last story, drowning land, a young man who has spent his life sleeping and dreaming hears a voice whispering, It is time to wake up. The past has finally counted and enough change has come from his dreaming life to get him to act. Now, there is the possibility of release and change—of body, soul and mercy uniting with what is essential in order to grace communal life. This is a deeply thoughtful and beautifully written work"—Gioia Timpanelli.
Playing on a classical form of poetry celebrating the labors of the farmer, Nagai (Histories of Bodies) sets these 10 haunting tales within a rural landscape ravaged by war and famine and denuded of bucolic splendor. In "Grafting," a village in the grips of a drought that has already reduced the number of mouths to feed by selling off the village's daughters now turns to dispense with the old people. The narrator knows she must have no mercy as she carries her old mother up the mountain to leave her with the others. In the title story, a village is nearly stripped of men thanks to a war and "a promise of gold." With the land fallen fallow and ravaged by locusts, the protagonist feeds her starving children by prostituting herself to the one man left, the Idiot Son. Other stories directly refer to history, such as the plight of Manchurian women at the end of WWII ("Autobiography"), and a prisoner's chilling account of murdering an American pilot ("Confession"). Starkly recounted with a clear, cold tone, these stories carry the weight of a survivor bearing witness. (Dec.)
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Nagai’s debut collection loosely blends elements of Japanese folktale and historical events whose characters struggle to survive poverty, famine, and war on dire, barren landscapes. Autobiography looks at a mother’s harrowing decision during the Soviet invasion of Manchuria at the end of WWII. When her soldier husband is killed, and she is unable to provide or care for her infant daughter, she is left with no other choice but to sell her child. In the title story, a rural village loses all its men save one in the war. Eventually, the devastating effects of starvation drive the female survivors to desperate measures. In Bitter Fruit, a young girl is forced to leave behind her parents and their remote village. In a new, unfamiliar city, she becomes a prostitute named Monkey. Years later, bound in debt to the brothel’s madam, she is forced to confront the reality surrounding her unborn child. Nagai’s 10 tales offer haunting depictions of human endurance and spirit as well as the anguish that can accompany survival. --Leah Strauss
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