My Postwar Life: A dive into the Japanese Psyche

Santa Cruz author dives into the Japanese psyche with new book on the lingering aftermath of World War II

Posted:   04/19/2012 01:30:04 AM PDT

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.

CQR Volume 14 Release Party and Reading at AWP

Please join us for the release of Volume 14!  The evening will include readings by Volume 14 contributors Christopher Linforth, Karen T. Miller and Laura Sims, a meet and greet with CQR  editors and staff, and light refreshments.  This event is free and open to the public.

Friday, March 2, 2012
6:00-8:00 P.M.
Open Books Bookstore
213 West Institute Place
Chicago, IL 60610

See the flyer below for more details! We hope to see you there!

CQR 14 Launch Party Flyer


“Someone I’d like You to Meet” by CQR editor Elizabeth McKenzie in the Atlantic magazine’s Fiction 2011 special issue

CQR editor Elizabeth McKenzie’s short story “Someone I’d like You to Meet” was featured in The Atlantic Magazine’s Fiction 2011 special issue: it was one of only nine short stories in a special issue that traditionally showcases the best of contemporary fiction. 

McKenzie is also the author of Stop That Girl, a collection of short stories that was published in 2006 by Random House, and also MacGregor tells the World: A Novel, Random House 2007.

McKenzie has received a Pushcart Prize for her short fiction, and had a story chosen by Dave Eggers for his anthology Best American Nonrequired Reading. She is currently senior editor of the Chicago Quarterly Review. We’re looking forward to her next novel!

Upcoming Chicago Writing Events: Northwestern University’s Annual Spring Writer’s Festival

Next week Northwestern University’s Annual Writer’s Festival commences.  While writing workshops are open only to Northwestern students, author readings as well as a guided discussion by writers Brian Bouldrey, Rachel Webster, and Eula Biss are open to the public.

New to the Festival this year is author David Shields, whose controversial book Reality Hunger: A Manifesto has been heralded by James Wood of The New Yorker as “highly- problematic” and “imprecise” and by Chuck Klosterman as what “might be the most intense, thought- accelerating book of the last 10 years”.  Shields is also the author of New York Times Bestseller The Thing About Life is That One Day You’ll Be Dead.  In his most recent anthology The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death twenty writers were asked to address the concept of death. Publishers Weekly names the result “a collection of extraordinary essays […].”

The festival begins on Tuesday April 12th at 5:30pm with a reading by Nami Mun, author of Miles from Nowhere.  Mun was named Best New Novelist by Chicago Magazine in 2009.  All public events take place at the Hilton Orrington of Evanston, Illinois.  Shields’ reading on April 14th at 5:30pm will conclude the festival.  You can read more about the conference and its authors here.


Novel release: To Be With Her, by Senior Editor Syed Afzal Haider

We’re very excited to announce the release of Senior Editor Syed Afzal Haider’s new novel, To Be With Her (Weavers Press). To mark the release of the novel, and the release of CQR 2010, readings will be held at the Booksmith in San Francisco on Thursday, November 11, 2010; and the Capitola Book Cafe on Monday, November 15, 2010 in Santa Cruz, California. Join us for this joint celebration which will feature Haider along with CQR contributors Timothy Crandle, Lynn Martin, Roberta Montgomery, Peter Sheehy, Don Skiles and Laura Wine Paster in San Francisco; John Chandler, Caitlyn He, Vanessa Hemingway, and Randy Splitter in Capitola.SyedAfzal

Chicago Quarterly Review 2010

We’ll be celebrating the upcoming release of our 2010 issue of Chicago Quarterly Review with two West Coast readings, one in San Francisco on Thursday, November 11 at the Booksmith and the other in Santa Cruz at the Capitola Book Cafe on Monday, November 15.  This issue of CQR is our most ambitious ever. We’re thrilled that we’ve been able to give space to twenty-nine excellent writers. If you live in the Bay Area we hope very much you’ll be able to join us.

We’d like to dedicate this 2010 issue of CQR to Mark Cullison, our dear friend and dedicated editor who died suddenly at his home this fall. Mark was a talented playwright, a sensitive and thoughtful editor, a great friend to many people, and above all a devoted husband and loving father to his two children.

Check out CQR editor Jeanie Chung’s latest publications

Jeanie has an essay in the forthcoming issue of Drunken Boat and also in the latest upstreet magazine. Her short stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and have appeared in Timber Creek Review, Madison Review, Hunger Mountain, and upstreet, as well as the anthology The Way We Knew It. A graduate of the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College, she was formerly a sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times. Her journalism and interviews have also appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune, among other publications. A fictionalized version of “Cuts and Folds” was selected for The Parlor’s Emerging Writers Festival in 2009.

What’s New & What’s Next in Chicago Publishing

CQR editors had a great time at the City of Chicago sponsored publishing event ‘What’s New & What’s Next in Chicago Publishing’ last night. Four writers from the 2nd Story ensemble read – the theme was love in all its various guises – and music was provided by the always fantastic Seeking Wonderland. We also enjoyed a conversation with Jill Pollack, director of StoryStudiochicago, before the reading.