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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fiction that binds: Japan's hope after disaster


By STEPHEN MANSFIELD
Kizuna: Fiction for Japan, edited by Brent Millis. CreateSpace, 2011, 228 pp., $15.99 (e-book)

It's no coincidence that the Chinese character chosen to represent the most expressive sentiment of the year in Japan, one that signifies hope after disaster and misery, was kizuna, meaning a bond of fraternity. Bystanders gather at the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto to watch as the iconic kanji is drawn by a priest wielding a giant calligraphy brush.

News photo

In the timely named "Kizuna: Fiction for Japan," we have a work that is both real and immaterial, a book that can be switched on and off, its pixels massing, then just as easily vaporizing with the brush of fingertips over a touch screen. If this suggests vapidity, it is a delight to discover that, although you may not be able to feel the physical density and heft of this digital book, its contents, dedicated to the victims of the March 3, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, have verifiable weight and substance.

You may not be familiar with all the contributors to this anthology, although the name Michael Moorcock is one that most readers will know. Over 70 writers from all parts of the globe have donated their time and creativity to this collection of new, previously unpublished work.

Although some of the stories are set in Japan, none are directly connected to the events in the Tohoku region. Like the recent microfiction genre that has reached the West in translation from China, all of these contributions are short and pithy. That said, there is a good deal of reading here.

Judging from the imaginative content, this is the age of sci-fi, fantasy and extreme fiction, of exploring the outer confines of sensations and experience. The influence of powerful imaginists like Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Kurt Vonnegut is evident.

What links these contributions are the human bonds created between the fictive subjects, some of them fulfilled others severed. Highly descriptive and experiential, the stories may be multi-national, but in serving up a smorgasbord of ideas and emotions, they transcend borders. In this fiction sans frontiers, writer Christene Britton-Jones takes us deep into the Australian Outback and its vernacular; John Rice, an Englishman in his 80s, offers a Sherlock Holmes' tale of extraordinary period authenticity. Another writer, Katherine Govier, searches for the Edo Period artist Hokusai's daughter; Ken Asamatsu is haunted by a Sapporo locale linked to the failed suicide of a friend.

There are contributions from a Japanese novelist and scriptwriter, a Western author who lives in India and has contributed a strange Hindu-Gothic tale, a theologian who writes chillingly of the habits of a neo-Nazi, and an intriguing sci-fi inspired story from Philip Overby, who claims among other things, to have served as a chicken factory worker, plumber's assistant and ex-pro wrestler. He now teaches English in Japan. These works by authors from very diverse backgrounds are testament to the extent of creativity that exists in our time, and the good will of these writers in contributing their work.

Some of these imaginative tales replicate the concept of kizuna, the bonds that can be made between people from jarringly different walks of life. In "Kamiya Bar" by Dan Ryan, the legendary Tokyo watering hole, once hallowed ground for novelists, dissolute poets and assorted flaneur, serves as the stage for a cordial encounter between an American couple and a Japanese war veteran, in which a potentially troubling past is resolved in the communality of the present.

Inspired by tragedy, it was a joy to read this anthology.

All the proceeds from sales of "Kizuna: Fiction for Japan" go to helping orphans in Japan's disaster-hit areas.


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