Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Laws of Evening by Mary Yukari Waters

When I picked up this book, after reading several synopses of it, I expected a collection of stories about mother-children relationships in postwar Japan. True, there were several of them, but I wouldn't say that this is what the book is "about." In the stories about fathers and in the absence of children, I tried to find that thread of thinking; I tried to look for the "hidden" meaning of a mother-child relationship. In some cases, it was completely absent.

Instead, I believe this collection is more a meditation on the effects of Westernization in Japan on those who remember what it was like before rationing, before the bombs dropped, and before their children came home with candies given to them by soldiers. It's about waking up and realizing how old you are, how much you've lived through, and seeing before you all the changes in the world since your birth. It's about recognizing clearly the differences between Japan then and Japan now, and not necessarily appreciating those changes.

The characters have all lost something, whether it be family, traditions, land, food, friendships, or sanity. What they haven't lost is the memory of the war and how it caused these things to be taken from them. They also haven't lost love; these characters understand that an unbreakable bond comes with love, even past death and pain. Though some marriages were arranged, as they were in the "old days," there is still a kind of love between partners, who sometimes feel as though they are worlds away from one another. There is also evidence that they haven't lost life, or the will to live. In all of these stories, something beautiful comes out of loss, whether it be an old man's lasting understanding of his wife, a son's outward love for his father, or the memory of a child who entertained a group of soldiers. The stories are sad, yet they remind us of something a character says: "Isn't life a resilient force, turning the worst of its disasters into something like this."

Each story is a photograph of a life, with some threads commonly running through (a TV show that explains health issues, old religions dying out in favor of Western ones), but all of which describe moments based in the structure of relationships. A mother whose favorite daughter dies, who instead of turning that favor to her second daughter, finds more beauty in her granddaughter. A son who, as he's growing older, loves his father more and more, but doesn't know what to say as the old man is dying. A daughter who never finds a husband but wants nothing more than children in her life. And in all cases, they always feel the pressure of the war, whether the war ended yesterday or twenty years ago.

These graceful tales pave the way through a culture of men, women, and children who have felt devastating results of World War II in Japan. It is a beautifully written, touching meditation on human spirit and familial relations. Enter the thoughts of eleven Japanese people and learn just what the laws of evening are.

1 comment:

tanabata said...

I've had this sitting on my shelf unread for quite a long time. Your wonderful review is making me want to pick it up soon.