Dear Betty - In response to your post below: As I was typing this, it crossed my mind that you might have posted something, but then I thought you had been too absorbed by Jonathan Franzen. So I'm glad to see you are reading this book, too. What are your thoughts? I couldn't pull together any statement or concerns about this book, but I am enjoying it and finding it more a source of consolation than of conversation. Here's what I typed up this morning:
I guess I’ll break the silence on A Song for Nagasaki. I am still slowly working through this book a few pages at a time before bed. I think what I like best about it is learning about Nagai’s integration of Eastern values with Christian faith (along with the tutorial in the Japanese vocabulary for these values).
Some incidents described by Glynn stand out: One is the story of Takashi’s visit to the site of Japan’s victory over the Mongals with the help of kamikaze, the divine wind, that confirmed the indomitable spirit of Japan.
Another is the death of Takashi’s mother, when he looks into her eyes and becomes convinced, through chokkan, or intuition, that the human spirit lives after death. Her death also sends him back to Pascal’s Pensees, which become the spur to the begin his spiritual life, although he seems always to have been open to spiritual truths, the wisdom of the heart. I liked how he begins to see the beauty in simple things, like green tea, but only when he realizes that looking for meaning for his life in the words of others only complicates his thinking, does he begin to understand that his life only needs to make sense to himself, like the complicated patterns of the lace makers.
This book makes a good companion to Silence since it describes what happened to Christians after the faith was outlawed in Japan and how they persevered in their faith and worship in spite of great danger. The description of the Christmas celebration was also moving, as was the history of the priest Nagai visits to ask about faith and to learn how to pray. The priest apparently taught Nagai well, since his prayers keep him sane during the war with China and perhaps even are the source of the miraculous arrival of back up troops at the last minute.
I keep meaning to look up The Ten Foot Square Hut, the short book that Nagai thinks about when he wakes up after his night of carousing with a case of meningitis and has to miss giving the graduation speech. The first line sticks with him: “Ceaselessly the river flows. . . The eddying foam gathers and then is gone, never staying for a moment. Even so is man and his habitat.”
Ironically – or providentially – shortly after I read that Marge Piercy poem about Ruth and Naomi that I posted on my blog I read the chapter about how Midori accepts Takashi as a groom and agrees to follow him even though he tells her he may die of radiation sickness from his research. I liked her response: “It will be my privilege to share in his journey, wherever it leads and whatever happens on the way.” Midori’s gentleness and open ear, her strength and grace like the bamboo, make her as saintly as her husband, although such meekness as she displays would seem unnatural in our culture. Perhaps the most vivid scenes are those of the husband and wife together, such as when selfless Midori carries the ill Takashi on her back through the snowstorm or when Takashi tells her he is going to die and she responds with strength, saying “We said before we married . . . that if our lives are spent for the glory of God, then life and death are beautiful. You have given everything you had for work that was very, very important. It was for his glory.” Her words free Takashi from guilt, but later, when fear of an American attack is imminent, he discovers her weeping on the floor after she thought he had gone.
Last night, with the attention of someone reading news of the grotesque, I read the chapter that describes the dropping of the bomb. The author makes it clear that the government of Japan had become corrupt under the military dictatorship, but he also doesn’t shrink from telling how children and parents and innocence and beauty were scorched in the heat of the atomic bomb. Collective guilt still feels oppressive. I’m looking forward to reading how Nagai held on to hope in the face of grave losses.
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