Seth T.'s Reviews > Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno
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's review
Nov 23, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: comics, graphic-novel-book-club

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 wept in silence for the space of a minute. All sense of composure was evaporated and I fell apart. 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.

[review courtesy of Good Ok Bad]
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
November 19, 2009 – Finished Reading
November 23, 2009 – Shelved
November 23, 2009 – Shelved as: comics
February 12, 2011 – Shelved as: graphic-novel-book-club

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Sarah (new)

Sarah So, if I was going to head into graphic novel land (having only read Art Spiegelman), would this be the place to start?

message 2: by Seth (last edited Dec 01, 2009 07:36AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Seth T. This would definitely be an acceptable place to start. Your local library might even have it (mine did). The one difficulty for new comics readers is that because the book is Japanese, it reads right to left instead of in the Western direction. This isn't any real kind of hurdle, but takes maybe a few pages to catch the flow.

Other comics I'd recommend for newcomers are:
Blankets - A sort of memoir of a twenty-something and how he got faith and then love and then lost love and then faith.

Y: The Last Man - Story of the world after a strange plague wipes out the world's entire male population (human and animal) save for one man and his monkey, Ampersand. It's ten volumes, but you'd know if you liked it after reading just the first one.

Amercian Born Chinese - An interesting fable about what it's like to grow up Asian in a Caucasian world (also pretty much certainly at your local library).

Bone - Epic (sometimes comic) fantasy. Just a joy to read. And Wendell would almost certainly love it when he's old enough, even if only to colour in. Michelle and I named my Scooter after one of the characters, Bartleby, who was in turned named after the Melville character.

Really though, I have a ton of recommendations. I can tailor them to what you want to read. Crime fiction? Austen-esque romance? Relevant non-fiction journalism? Science fiction? Comedy? Samurai rabbits? Almost whatever you'd like, I can find a suitable book for you.

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