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Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

Written and illustrated by Fumiyo Kuono
Last Gasp/jaPress
104 pages, $9.99
ISBN-10: 0867196653
ISBN-13: 9780867196658

 

Read excerpt from right to left. Grandma wants you kids to stop these shenanigans and clean up this mess right now! Sequence from Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, ©2003 Fumiyo Kuono.

 

At first glance, this excellent short-story collection appears to be manga through and through. The backgrounds are realistic but hand-drawn, with just a touch of quirky roundness, and the characters have the airy, innocent look of figures from a Hayao Miyazaki cartoon. And those are the last similarities that this book shares with the typical manga found at your local bookstore.

The award-winning Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is a meditation on the lingering after-effects of the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, and the terrible burdens this event placed upon the survivors. One would think that a book dealing with such a topic would carry the heavy gravitas found in other, similarly themed books, such as Maus or Barefoot Gen, but you'd be mistaken. Creator Fumiyo Kuono, who grew up in Hiroshima decades after the bombing, graces this book's pages with a light, ephemeral touch that lulls the reader into the sort of reverie generated by episodic slice-of-life tales such as — well, such as the two short stories found here. It's a deceptively easy volume...

...which, of course, makes the sucker punches land that much harder.

 

Read excerpt from right to left. The pain and tragedy remains under the surface; the survivors carry them in their flesh. Sequence from Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, ©2003 Fumiyo Kuono.

 

It's said sucker punches that makes it difficult to talk much about Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms's actual contents. The more I say, the more I give the game away, and that's a real disservice to readers who have yet to experience Kuono's work. Since I don't want to ruin it for you, allow me to instead note that the naturalism and attention to character on display in this book are Kuono's greatest assets, allowing her to take a large and incomprehensible tragedy and break it down to reader's-eye level, providing glimpses of its effects on everyday people years after the fact, and leaving it to the reader to imagine the rest.

The result is a book that will stay with you for quite some time after you've read it, but without feeling like you've just eaten the literary equivalent of a plate of spinach. You'll be haunted by its implications, to be sure, but you won't feel as though you've been hit over the head with Big Messages — remove the nuclear fire and you'd still have two enjoyable examples of quality storytelling. It's a fine line to walk, but Fumiyo Kuono walks it well. Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is more than worthy of your attention.

 

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

 

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