There is a paradox in all great short stories: they leave large marks that bely their stature. Like a tiny comet crashing to Earth, they are brilliantly devastating forces of nature that make a hell of a profound impact.
With this newly released collection from the late Grave of the Fireflies author Akiyuki Nosaka, there are many such scalable wonders on offer.
Nosaka was a teenager when he lived through the firebombing of Kobe, Japan by the Allied air forces. Torn between boyhood and manhood at the time of the attack, Nosaka was enraptured to document the devastation that claimed his parents and, ultimately his sister. That harsh truth rings loud and clear through Nosaka’s work like an air raid siren.
Reading the stories in Pushkin’s fantastic new collection of his seldom seen work, it’s as if we are in the presence of a writer stuck in arrested development. His stories have a simplistic, minimalist style (of which the Japanese are renowned) but also a playfully childlike world view – perhaps to distract from the horrors of facing up to a grimly adult aftermath, perhaps to dream about innocence or perhaps to disarm the reader. Whatever the reason for the style, it works to blistering effect. Hemingway could write without flair too, stacking his simple sentences into a tower of power that few others could scale to plant their own competing flag atop of.
This is a writer who can take atrocity and infuse it with wonder that outweighs overt negativity. It brings to mind the film Life is Beautiful. The imagination on display here is so inviting that are compelled to submit to the author’s fantasy. You feel that within his delusions and fables could well be the secrets of life itself.
Let’s take the example of The Mother That Turned Into a Kite – a fantasy fable that lives up to its buoyant name but also weaves in heavier themes of loyalty and sacrifice.
It’s the story of a mother and child surrounded by flames that draw ever closer. The need for cooling moisture is so severe that she selflessly bathes her child with her soothing tears to cool him down. When the tears are dried, the next fluid available is her own blood. Soon she is all dried up of that too, literally drained in an effort to protect her kin, to a point where her weight is so slight that she can fly away from the flames like a kite. The combination of Disney like fantasy with something much more brutal and adult is startling.
Nosaka’s gift of celebrating darkened life while illuminating death is extraordinary and the 12 stories in this wonderful collection represent ideal testaments to that. This is, my eye, an essential purchase.
More details on the Pushkin site here.