Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

I never read manga. It is, for me, hard to read a book, even a graphic novel, backwards. Its obviously a skill that one learns and perfects, the more a person does it. So I'm not sure what prompted me to grab Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno off the shelf. The cover, perhaps? I certainly had no idea that this was an acclaimed work, the recipient of multiple awards here and in Japan. Instead, I thought the cover illustration was sweet and eye catching. The illustrations, when I flipped through, were pleasant and sweet. Even when I read the back cover description, which clearly stated the book's serious subject matter, I think I expected the book to just be charming and enjoyable. It was, instead, a sock in the gut.

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is about Hiroshima and the impact that World War II and the atomic bomb had on the people of Japan. The first story, Town of Evening Calm follows a young woman in 1955, ten years after the bomb, as she tries to learn how to live - despite her guilt for being alive and despite the horrible poverty and illness her family must live in. Country of Cherry Blossoms, the second story, is told in two parts and is set in recent time. It addresses what it means to remember and to forget your past, with the shadow of the war looming over all.

This is the kind of book one can hold up when a detractor says that manga or graphic novels are "just comic books." It was a powerful work and one that I would recommend to anyone interested in learning more about Japan and her people.

Buy Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms on Amazon.

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