2001

Silence to Light:
Japan and the Shadows of War

Series Editor Frank Stewart
Guest Editor Leza Lowitz

Secret Places:
New Writing from Nepal

Series Editor Frank Stewart
Guest Editors Samrat Upadhyay
and Manjushree Thapa

On the sixtieth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Silence to Light illuminates the tumultuous period, and the aftermath, of World War II and the war in Asia. Through fiction, memoirs, letters, testimonials, film scripts, poetry, photographs, and manga (Japanese cartoons), the volume brings to light the personal and communal memories that have disappeared into silence. Readers get a new and vivid perspective on such events as the Manchurian Incident, the Rape of Nanking, the Battle of Okinawa, Japanese American internment, and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The art work includes stills from Ogata Keiichi's film Hiroshima through Light; panels from Keiji Nakazawa's manga novel Barefoot Gen; World War II–era photographs from the collections of Shuzo Uemoto and Francis Haar; and a portrait of Uemoto by Paul Kodama.

About the guest editor: Leza Lowitz lived from 1990 to 1994 in Tokyo, where she worked as a freelance journalist for Japan Times and Asahi Evening News. Her books of translation include a long rainy season and other side river, both anthologies of contemporary Japanese women's poetry edited and cotranslated with Miyuki Aoyama. Her own books of poetry include Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By. Among her awards are a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and the Tokyo Journal Fiction Translation Prize.

Extracts

Eighth of December. Early this morning, as I lay in bed thinking about all the things I had to do today and nursing Sonoko (our daughter, who was born in June of this year), I clearly heard the words coming from one of the neighbors’ radios.
     The Imperial Headquarters of the Army and Navy have announced that as of shortly before dawn this morning, 8 December, the Imperial Army and Navy have entered a state of war with British and American forces in the western Pacific.
     The words seeped through the slats in the rain shutters and into the darkness of my room with all the strength and vividness of sunlight. In the same crisp, clear voice, the announcement was repeated. As I lay there quietly listening to it, my entire life changed. It was as if I were bathed in a powerful beam of light that left my body transparent. Or as if the Holy Spirit had breathed through me, leaving a single, cold flower petal lodged in my heart. Nippon, too, has changed. From this morning on, it’s not the same Nippon.
—from Dazai Osamu, “December 8”

In 1945, my fourteen-year-old brother, Ishii Kohei, was a student at the First Xinjing Middle School in Manchuria, an area of China that had been occupied by Japan for nearly fifteen years. In order to help with the Japanese war effort—which was going badly by then—my brother and 120 of his classmates were sent to do manual labor on a National Service Farm in Dongning, near the then-Soviet border. There, on 9 August, my brother was caught up in the massive Soviet effort to drive the Japanese out of Manchuria.

     My brother was one of three million Japanese to die in the war, and as is the case with many Japanese casualties, no one knows the exact circumstances of his death. Many people still do not even know where the remains of their loved ones lie. And so my brother’s death is not only a part of my own family’s grieving but also a part of our nation’s history. In Japan, when someone dies in vain, he is said to have died "a dog’s death." If the circumstances that led to my brother’s death are not taught in schools—along with the truth of so many other deaths of the war years—his dying will indeed have been no different from that of a dog’s.

—from Ishii Shinpei, "The Canary That Forgot
 Its Song: A Return to Wartime Manchuria"

Guest-edited by Samrat Upadhyay and Manjushree Thapa, Secret Places features new prose and poetry from Nepal, a Hindu kingdom rich in cultural and topographic beauty but faced with especially difficult social, economic, and political challenges. Situated between the two most populous countries in the world and possessing formidable natural borders—the towering Himalayan range to the north and the tropical lowlands of the Tarai to the south—Nepal was geographically and politically isolated from much of the world until 1951, following a democratic revolution that toppled the hereditary dictatorship. The nation has since opened its borders to outsiders; even so, access remains difficult and Nepal continues to be sequestered.

Writers in Nepal have been courageous in addressing the country’s political and social concerns, including issues of individual freedom and the rights of minorities. And though the writing community is not large, Nepal’s authors work in a wide variety of styles and from various points of view concerning the role of literature in society. In her overview essay printed in this volume, Manjushree Thapa discusses Nepal’s contemporary writing community, and finds common ground among the more extreme stances. According to her, the mission of Nepal’s authors, regardless of their differences, has become twofold: to reach out to their own people—a society of dozens of languages, castes, and ethnic groups, with varying levels of education and literacy—and to reach out to the world.

About the guest editors: Samrat Upadhyay is the author of the short-story collection Arresting God in Kathmandu (Houghton Mifflin, 2001). His work has appeared in Best American Short Stories 1999, edited by Amy Tan, and Scribner's Best of the Fiction Workshops 1999, edited by Sherman Alexie. His story "The Cooking Poet" was featured in Selected Shorts and read in Los Angeles by Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy.

Manjushree Thapa is a writer living in Kathmandu. She is the author of a nonfiction narrative, Mustang Bhot in Fragments, and the translator of a collection of Ramesh Vikay's stories, A Leaf in a Begging Bowl. She atttended the University of Washington's creative writing program as a Fulbright fellow. Her first novel will be published by Penguin India this year.

Extracts

Like all Nepalis around the world, for the past few days I have been trying to put together a coherent understanding of the incoherent act that took the lives of most of my native country's royal family.
    One half of the Nepali heart has been reserved for awe and respect for a king-who-is-really-god, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The other half is stirred by images of political freedom. This tug-of-war between two halves of the heart exists even among the most-educated and most-intellectual of the Nepali people. "We need a king," you'll find doctors, teachers, cigarette-smoking writers say, even as they can't, or won't, tell you precisely why Nepal can't do away with the crown and turn into a republic.
—from Samrat Upadhyay, "A Kingdom Orphaned"

Along the trail of the Muktinath pilgrimage
a simple old Nepali woman
examines me for quite a while and tells me
her son's gone to work in Brunei
I can't be translated into her son
figuring I'm here to sell hashish the old woman
puts on deferential airs and asks for a joint
then she spends a long time lamenting:
what else do we have to sell to tourists
except for hashish and our bodies
—from Shailendra Sakar, "The Naundanda Hills"

232 pp., summer 2001 (13:1), $20
ISBN 978-0-8248-2436-9

240 pp., winter 2001 (13:2), $20
ISBN 978-0-8248-2512-8