Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Southern Exposure: Modern Japanese Literature from Okinawa edited by Michael Molasky and Steve Rabson

[This entire post is full of spoilers...I figure no one else is going to read this book, though, so it's okay?]

Tokusho turned around and lay Ishimine on the ground . . . . Tokusho took out a piece of dried bread from the paper bag Setsu had given him and placed it in Ishimine's hand.  Tokusho then poured some water from the canteen into his palm and let it drip between the rows of white teeth that shone though Ishimine's parted lips.  The moment Tokusho saw the water overflow and drip down Ishimine's cheek, he could no longer restrain himself.  He put the canteen to his own mouth and gorged himself.  When he caught his breath, the canteen was empty.  The droplets of water spread through his entire body, creating a searing pain as if they were tiny shards of glass.  Tokusho fell to his knees and stared at Ishimine, who lay on the ground where he was slowly absorbed by the shadows and muddy water.  He looked too heavy to carry.  No voices could be heard in the shelter.  Tokusho set down the empty canteen next to Ishimine.  "Forgive me," he said.

--Droplets by Medoruma Shun

Droplets, my favorite story in this collection, starts with a Kafkaesque premise: Ushi, Tokusho's wife, wakes one morning to find that Tokusho's leg has transformed into a giant gourd.  This gourd, in turn, is dripping a water-like liquid.  Tokusho is as though paralyzed, he doesn't move, cannot speak, and is unresponsive to Ushi.  Tokusho's leg becomes a point of interest in the village because no one can figure out what happened to it (Ushi, a poor farmer, refuses to send Tokusho to a hospital because she believes hospitals are where people go to die).

This is an example of the
gourd in question.
While Ushi cares for Tokusho's leg and their farm, Tokusho starts receiving visitor's at night.  They are dead soldiers, with visible (and fatal) wounds, who come to suck on his leg, where the water is coming out.  He starts to recognize some of the people as people who died during the Battle of Okinawa.  This motivates him to start reflecting on painful memories---particularly of his own acts during the battle.

Meanwhile, in the non-mystical world, Tokusho's brother drops in and Ushi agrees to pay him to take care of Tokusho.  Tokusho's brother is something of a drifter and con-man.  He notices that the garden where Ushi poors the leg-water out is lush with growth.  So...he tries to drink some of the leg water.  He is instantly invigorated (and aroused for the first time in years---he's an alcoholic).  He puts some of the liquid onto his bald head and hair immediately starts sprouting.  He decides to start selling the liquid.

Tokusho's reflections take him back to one of the nights during the Battle of Okinawa, quoted above, when he left his friend Ishimine behind.  They and a large number of others were in a make-shift cave hospital as the U.S. bombed the island.  The cave was being evacuated because they expected it to be bombed.  While Ishimine and Tokusho are out gathering water and helping to move wounded soldiers, shrapnel from a bomb cuts open Ishimine's stomach and his intestines fall out.  Tokusho immediately bandages them and carries Ishimine inside.  At this point, most of the hospital has been evacuated and it's just the two of them.  A mutual friend tells them to hurry up and leaves Tokusho with bread and a canteen...for both of them.  Tokusho has a choice.  He can share the water and bread and then try to carry Ishimine to the new hospital.  Or he can leave Ishimine behind.

He chooses the latter.

In the years the follow, he becomes a popular speaker about the war and people consider him a hero.  Of course, he feels otherwise.

More happens, but I'll leave the ending for the people who feel motivated to read the story.

I'm not quite sure what the gourd-leg is supposed to symbolize.  Regardless of what it is supposed to symbolize, it forces Tokusho to confront the reality of his past and his actions during the war. Tokusho abandoned Ishimine, and now feels guilt both for that action and for the accolades he received after.  In the same way he has fed off his experiences during the war, the soldiers he failed to help now feed off him.

This was, by quite a bit, the best story in the collection.  With that said, the other stories (and poems) in the collection were quite good too.  I would recommend this book to anyone...but I acknowledge that, for most people, there's no reason to be interested in the Modern Literature of a Minority in Another Country (which is to say...this is a very specific category...).  The stories confront a number of different issues: life after war, being a minority, cultural identity while being "colonized," cultural identity after being "reverted" to the country that controlled you before you were colonized...which is itself a country that more or less took you over.

1 comment:

Brent Waggoner said...

Sounds pretty coo. I've somehow ended up reading a couple "minority in a foreign country" collections lately--some good perspective.