“Sacred Cesium Ground and Isa’s Deluge: Two Novellas of Japan’s 3/11 Disaster,” by Yusuke Kimura, translated by Doug Slaymaker (Columbia University Press, 2019, 176 pages, $60 hardcover, $20 paperback)
May 2, 2019
TOKYO >> An anger directed toward Tokyo underlies Yusuke Kimura’s two novellas, “Sacred Cesium Ground” and “Isa’s Deluge.” Born from a keen sense of abandonment felt by the Tohoku region in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, and the subsequent nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, this anger plays out across stories exploring the post-disaster relationships between humans and animals.
The protagonist in “Sacred Cesium Ground” is a woman who travels to Fukushima Prefecture to volunteer at the Fortress of Hope, a farm where cattle irradiated by the Fukushima No. 1 power plant meltdown are tended to despite a government order to kill them.
Based on the story of a real post-Fukushima ranch, the novella carries with it a weight of research born from the author’s own volunteering, though it proves ultimately unsatisfying, never quite reaching the moment of reinvention that the lead character hints at throughout.
“Isa’s Deluge” is the more readable of the two, with a flow and pacing that draws in the reader. Shortlisted for the Mishima Yukio Prize after it was first published in 2012, it follows a family of fishermen who relate the story of their uncle Isa and his “deluge” of pain and depression, an allegory of the 3/11 tsunami.
Both novellas highlight peripheral voices in the post-3/11 period and ultimately return time and again to that tension between a “sacrificial” Tohoku and an all-powerful capital. These perspectives are those not frequently heard and challenge the widespread narrative of an ever-dominant Tokyo.