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Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire

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  • Posted September 8, 2009

    Ghosts of the Past

    "Sometimes late at night I'll hear them, my dead. My mother, Tommy, my father. Perhaps their voices are part of some acid flashback, remnants of my brief psychotropic college days. Certainly, I don't believe in heaven or an afterlife. Tommy might say they were speaking from another dimension, some alternative universe where the history of our family unfolds in another direction, as a new, unexplored possibility.

    At any rate, I know they're close by."

    - from Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire: A Novel by David Mura

    I wonder if I'm particularly insensitive, or just life-focused, but I find myself largely inured to death. Having had it strike close to me a few times, it loses much of its power to frighten me. That's not to say I don't feel sorrow when a loved one dies. I do, but I've grown so tired of being frightened of it, so resigned and even jaded to its inevitability, I look at it as a long period of rest after the wretched mess that is life.

    The fact remains, butting our heads against the wall, hoping to receive some sign from beyond, is futile. This I've learned, too.

    David Mura's book reflects the pain and loss suffered by all who've lost loved ones. His "people," the family who left him, were each in some way fractured, but the loss of them still couldn't be neatly packaged and put away on a shelf, like a treasured memento. Having legitimate reasons for feeling resentment against someone can't prepare you for their loss. Once the end is signalled there is no more, ending any potential opportunity to repair broken bridges, or to have that familiar grudge to lean on, as an excuse for your own failures.

    And, when death happens within a family, especially if it leaves just one person behind, it's like an echo reverberating in an empty room. There may be others in your life, those with whom you have satisfying relationships, but nothing quite fills the void left by such loss. Nothing is the same as losing those of your blood.

    Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire is an exploration of the hollowness left after loss, the burden bourne by those left behind. None of the losses in this book are "clean." None of them end with the comfort of having been prepared for, allowing for what some call "closure." Strings are left untied, and questions unanswered. The edges are as ragged as a wound sutured inexpertly, leaving an ugly scar behind as a constant reminder of the violence.

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