Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire

Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire

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by David Mura
     
 

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“There is no writer that dives deeper (or more bravely) into the chasm that is the human heart. [David Mura’s] first novel is a tour de force: luminously written and by turns crafty, tough, wise, and joyful.”—Junot Díaz

Ben Ohara is the sole surviving member his family. A troubled and brilliant astrophysicist, Ben’s younger

Overview

“There is no writer that dives deeper (or more bravely) into the chasm that is the human heart. [David Mura’s] first novel is a tour de force: luminously written and by turns crafty, tough, wise, and joyful.”—Junot Díaz

Ben Ohara is the sole surviving member his family. A troubled and brilliant astrophysicist, Ben’s younger brother has mysteriously vanished in the Mojave Desert. His father, one of a small group of WWII draft resisters (known as the No-No Boys) during the internment of Japanese Americans, committed suicide when Ben was young. And his mother, whose wish to escape the past was as strong as his father’s ties to it, has died with her secrets.

Now struggling to support his wife and children and under pressure to complete his historical study, Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire, Ben realizes that the key to unlocking the future lies in reassessing the past.

As Ben vividly recalls a childhood colored by the tough Chicago streets, horror movie monsters, sci-fi villains, Japanese folktales, and TV war heroes, he begins to understand the profound difference between coming of age and becoming a man. And by retracing his brother’s footsteps and returning to the site of the Heart Mountain Internment Camp, Ben uncovers a truth that has the power to set him free.

An acclaimed memoirist, poet, and playwright, David Mura is one of America’s most insightful cultural critics. His memoirs, Turning Japanese and Where the Body Meets Memory, along with his poems, essays, plays, and performances, have won wide critical praise and numerous awards. Visit his website at www.davidmura.com.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this uneven debut novel from poet and memoirist Mura (Turning Japanese), third-generation Japanese-American Ben Ohara is haunted by the legacy of the WWII internment camps. Both of his parents were detained, and his father, Takeshi, was a "No-No Boy" whose refusal to join the armed forces planted the seed of his miserable demise by suicide. Now a 40-something "itinerant historian," Ben receives a postcard sent 10 years earlier from his troubled younger brother, Tommy, shortly before he disappeared in the Mojave Desert. The long-delayed message revives Ben's interest in his unfinished book, a project that "betray[s] my lifelong fascination with the origins of my family's grief and madness." Ben delves into his family's past in an attempt to understand what happened to his father and brother, and while the novel's first half vividly recounts Ben's childhood in Chicago's rough Uptown neighborhood, the second half sees the narrative losing energy as it becomes more contemplative and big family secrets are blandly revealed. Mura writes beautiful sentences, but the story becomes more slack just as it should be intensifying. (Sept.)

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Library Journal

This debut novel by a recognized nonfiction author and poet is presented as the memoir of Japanese American Ben Ohara, who is married and has two sons. After the sudden disappearance of his younger brother Tommy, who abandoned a career as a brilliant scientist and fell into drug addiction and gambling, Ben attempts to come to terms with his past. Ben relates his childhood in the Chicago slums, where a street fight results in his arrest and incarceration in juvenile detention; the suicide of his father, a draft resister, or No-No Boy, during World War II (who never adjusted after his years in an interment camp); and his mother, who assimilated successfully into a post office career and remarried a Caucasian after her husband's death. Intermixed with these recollections are stories from Ben's unfinished dissertation of famous Japanese suicides. Ben discovers that by focusing on his past, he is like "someone other than who I'm supposed to be" and eventually commits himself to his family and the present. Despite the distinct stories about suicides and the Japanese internment camps, the novel is more like a patchwork of fiction and historical facts that does not hold together well. For larger collections only.
—David A. Berona

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781566892155
Publisher:
Coffee House Press
Publication date:
09/01/2008
Pages:
280
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author


An acclaimed memoirist, poet, and playwright, David Mura is one of America's most candid social critics. His memoirs, Turning Japanese and Where the Body Meets Memory, along with his poems, essays, plays, and performances, have won wide critical praise for their insightful analysis of the connections between cultural identity, interracial relationships, and the legacies of American history.

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Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Lisa_Guidarini More than 1 year ago
"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.