It’s been more than 66 years since the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II. But, said novelist and editor Elizabeth McKenzie, for the people of Japan, the war’s aftermath is still unfolding.
“Everything reflects back on the shadow of the war. That topic comes up when you talk to people all the time. It is still present in people’s lives.”
McKenzie is the editor of a new book called “My Postwar Life: New Writings From Japan and Okinawa.” The Santa Cruz author of the books “Stop That Girl” and “MacGregor Tells the World” spent five months in Japan in 2010 after receiving an artist fellowship courtesy of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission. It was while she was there that she began collecting essays, poems, fiction, photography, even a play about Japan’s continuing reaction to World War II from close to two dozen writers and artists.
“My grandmother was a physician who treated children with radiation sickness after the war,” said McKenzie, who will appear with several of her writers next Tuesday at Capitola Book Café. “And I went over there wanting to write a novel about that.”
McKenzie is also the editor of the Chicago Quarterly Review, and it was in that capacity that she began to explore a special issue of the CQR on Japan. The project then grew into a book, the first published by Chicago Quarterly Review Books.
“My Postwar Life” contains a wide variety of forms. For instance, Masataka Matsuda’s play “Park City” wrestles with the specter of Hiroshima. The book also features photographs of the lavishly illustrated diary of a soldier in the Japanese imperial army who survived the war and lived to be 97. It was translated by a UC Santa Cruz student.
“It is a really touching piece,” said McKenzie of the diary. “We had no idea what we were getting. Whatever it was, we wanted it, and then it turned out to be beautiful.”
But perhaps the most catalytic piece in “My Postwar Life” comes from Hitoshi Motoshima, the longtime mayor of Nagasaki, who generated considerable controversy 20 years ago when he suggested that Hirohito — the beloved emperor of Japan who at the time on his deathbed — bore some responsibility for the outcome of the war. Motoshima was widely denounced for his statement and a year later there was an assassination attempt made on his life, which he survived.
In “My Postwar Life,” McKenzie publishes, for the first time in English, Motoshima’s essay on the occasion of a peace memorial in Hiroshima.
“He basically explained why Hiroshima should not be the site of a world peace memorial,” she said, “that it is part of the war machine.”
Also included in the book is an account of McKenzie’s interview with Motoshima, who is now 90, written by her husband Stephen Woodhams.
McKenzie also enlarged her vision to include Okinawa, the islands south of Japan that are technically a region of that country. Okinawan writers, she said, insisted that their cultural experiences of the postwar period were distinct from that of the Japanese mainland.
Also contributing to the book is Karen Tei Yamashita, the UCSC faculty member who was a finalist for the National Book Award for her novel “I Hotel.” Yamashita contributed a foreword to the book.