Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hiroshima in the Morning, by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

“Many writers write to find out who they are, and what they think, and where they fit into the world,” said Rahna Reiko Rizzuto to an audience at the Hiroshima YMCA. Exactly.

Although Rizzuto went to Hiroshima to do research for a novel, her seven months in Japan yielded much more: an in-depth and personal exploration of her family relationships as she interviewed survivors of the first atomic bombing during the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

Her new memoir, Hiroshima in the Morning, tells that complicated story.

But wait a minute.

Q:  Why is information about a memoir set in Japan and written by a Brooklyn author featured on a blog about western literature?

A:  Because Rizzuto turns the universal themes of motherhood, war, resilience, and identity into graceful, searing prose.

Shortly after she arrives in Hiroshima to interview survivors of the atomic bombing, Rizzuto experiences an unexpected transformation. “Now that I’m in Japan,” she writes, “I’m beginning to sense this mechanism in myself: there’s a distance, a small gap, between the neat labels I present on the outside, and the more turbulent urges I’m finding inside … Am I changing, or was I never that person in the first place?”

Hiroshima in the Morning chronicles Rizzuto’s transformation with painfully honest observations (“I never wanted to be a mother”) and heartbreaking anecdotes (“ …they brought her home, lying on a door. Her clothes were tattered and stuck to her skin. She died the next night, calling, ‘Mother, help me, please.’”).

And what Rizzuto learns about herself applies to us all.

“How we tell our stories makes all the difference. They are where we store our tears, where the eventual healing lies. If ‘we’ are talking, then we are safe in our group perspective; we do not have to own our experience alone, nor do we have to feel it … As scary, and painful, as it is to claim our pronouns, ‘we’ cannot inhabit our own lives until ‘I’ begins to speak.”

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