Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

Created by: Fumiyo Kouno

Published by: Last Gasp

ISBN: 0867196653 (Amazon)

Pages: 104

Genre: Drama, Historical, Manga, Romance, War

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

It’s not often that I’ll be stunned—actually stunned—by a book or story. Despite its unwieldy title (one that prevents me from being able to recommend it in verbal conversation), Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms stunned me well and good. In under a hundred pages, Fumiyo Kouno may have authored the best book I’ll read this year. (I’m torn in four ways between this, Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and two works by Bolaño, 2666 and The Savage Detectives; not unpleasant company for a work that certainly doesn’t have the press or print run of these other books—at least, not in America.)

If there is one way by which to properly describe this book, it’s human.

Kouno crafts a story that is at once full of so many of the facets of our nature that it can be breathtaking to see how flawlessly they’re brought to life in such a short span of pages. Greed, fear, guilt, shame, anger, regret, sorrow, love, laughter, hope, song, and joy. All of these features of the human frame are present in Kouno’s two-part story. Still more, we see the insidious hand of history and the buoyant touch of nostalgia at work throughout the book’s narrative.

Kouno’s book is divided into two related stories: “Town of Evening Calm” and “Country of Cherry Blossoms.” Hence the terrible title for the book as a whole. Each explores the lives of members of a single family who live as survivors of the Hiroshima bombing and struggle to find their place, being caught between a society that quietly fears them and the weight of survivor’s guilt. Alternately heart-warming and gut-wrenching, this brief exploration of the civilian impact of modern warfare is as good as anything I’ve encountered on the subject. Kouno is neither gratuitous nor melodramatic and her simple stories are powerful reminders of both the heroic and villainous ends of the human spectrum.

While Kouno hones her storytelling lens on the individual—a young woman (in the first part) who struggles to accept the possibility of love in the wake of her unfair escape of Hiroshima’s destruction and (in the second part) her brother and his children’s firsthand experience of the unspoken apprehension felt by a society that would not or could not allow themselves to empathize with hibakusha (surviving victims of the Bomb)—her purpose spans much wider territory. She, in fact, aims to confront the human being in its peculiar existence as seat to both horror and beauty. And even while condemning the race, she hints at the wonder of humanity and the good that it can accomplish when it doesn’t allow its nature to get in the way.

As I said earlier, Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms had upon me a stunning kind of impact. There came a point that I dropped the book to my feet and mourned in silence for the space of a minute. All sense of composure was evaporated and I fell apart. The things humans can do to other humans defies imagination. I never suspected such words as “Got another one,” could have such a full-bodied effect on my conscience.

There was nothing gruesome or exploitative or contrived about Kouno’s telling. The book was just that good. And of course, I recovered from my disablement and was able to continue taking in her joyous, mournful, hopeful, thought-provoking work of quiet genius.

Best graphic novel I’ve read this year.

 

 

Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:

3 Stars = Good
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.

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