Thursday, January 26, 2012
A powerful new book about the tsunami disaster in Japan in March, 2011
Keiko Takahashi: Beyond the Vast Wasteland: 24 Poems and Photographs of life after the Great Earthquake of East Japan. Tokyo, Sampoh Publishing Co;, Ltd, 2011. English translation by William L. Brooks, adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. Photographs by Kei Ogata and Hidesato Iwamura.
My wife and I became aware that something big was happening on March 11, 2011 when tremors began to shake our Sapporo condominium, and escalating in intensity. Turning on our TV, we watched in horror as the tsunami swept over a vast area sweeping everything in its path, then swept back again out to sea. I remember saying to her: “Honey, this is like watching a war unfold. Northeast Japan is under attack.” The visuals are still still chillingly awe-inspiring. I’ve never in my life seen such utter devastation unfold in so short a time.
Keiko Takahashi's poems are a fitting tribute to the people of Northeast Japan, beautifully written and each one matched with an unforgettable photo.
“If this is not an outrage,” she writes in one of her poems “in requiem”, "What else can it be called?
Beyond anyone’s control
People, their homes, their land
Assaulted, smashed, butchered
And a brutal wasteland appeared.
Destruction before us
We know not what to do
We stand motionless.
May be powerless.
But, what if
The prayers rising up from this darkness
And people’s actions that turn into prayers
Become a string of lights?
There I would see the only hope.
I would call this the ultimate miracle.”
In another poem she writes,
“Let us now listen to the voices
Of innocent souls
That have fallen to their deaths in the ground.
Voices continue to echo
In the land where everything was lost.
Walk the vast wasteland and beyond.”
In the final poem --
"People live in places
Where trials and tribulations swirl
Where light and darkness intersect
This is a wasteland that slopes mercilessly
Toward devastation and disorder.
Yet in such a wasteland,
People are walking,
Blazing a path of hope."
These are hopeful poems, courageous poems, poems that challenge. And because they are, they apply as well to Gaza, Somalia and all other places where mindless violence sweeps with tsunami like force through land and lives.
Much has been written and produced about the disaster, its aftermath, and the suffering, stoicism and spirit of the region’s people. Keiko Takahashi’s remarkable book is one of the best I have read. Published late last year in Japanese, it was released in English just this month. I've read through it several times. It's a book I'll return to time and again through the days ahead.
A 5-star read.
Available online from Sampoh Publishing Company, Ltd., Tokyo at http://www.sampoh.co.jp/english/order/order.html