My rating: 2 of 5 stars
i’m not much of a fan of short story collections, but i am a total sucker for anything japanese. or putatively japanese. or that has brushed up against japan. so i had to check this one out.
alas, most of the stories in here were not actually translated from the japanese. which is a bummer, you know? ’cause international sf is da bomb. but pretty much all have something to do with japan, anyway, which is the next best thing.
the first is a story told by a former child soldier in an unnamed African war. the soldier in question is “former” only because the war is declared over, not because he wants it to be. he still has vengeance he needs to wreak on whichever of the enemy he can get near–but an NGO has injected him with a drug that makes it impossible for him to recognize said enemy (there are apparently some differences in appearance between our young gent’s affiliation and his nemeses’). but if you can’t recognize the “bad guys,” who do you kill?
our hero comes up with a pretty chilling answer to that question.
but the best part of the story is really his viewpoint–his unrelenting rage toward the enemy and all who might succor them. his tale includes a lot of the real-life story of child soldiers: indoctrination, drug use, the inevitable psychological scarring and the intense (altho perhaps misplaced) loyalty of badly damaged children. it’s not an easy story, and it won’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, but it will take you to one of the darkest corners of the human quilt and shine a little light on it.
the second story, The Sea of Trees, happens in a real place south of Tokyo called Aokigahara, a dense and apparently very weird forest where people go to commit suicide. it’s the Golden Gate Bridge of Japan–lovely, and terribly attractive to people in overwhelming pain. Swirsky’s young heroine is a scavenger of the recently-dead, and she has some unhealthy relationships with the ghost-dwellers of Aokigahara. in the forest she meets a (living) young american girl on a mission, which may or may not end very, very badly for all concerned.
i don’t know how a japanese person would feel about this tale–the japanese view suicide differently than americans. i don’t have a stereotypical american viewpoint (i pretty much believe that a person in intolerable pain, either physical or psychological, has a right to end it, even if it means ending themselves with it). swirsky’s answer to the calculation of pain may or may not be japanese, i don’t know. but the story itself is a deeply compassionate answer to the question.
can’t say i found any real stand-outs in the rest of the book… but i have become very short with short stories–if they don’t sink claws into my retinas in a page or two, i find i haven’t the patience for them. the two stories above are probably worth the price of the book. the rest, if you like it, is gravy.