A Year in Reading: Masatsugu Ono

December 22, 2009

coverThis year, the book that left an impression on me was Yurie Nagashima’s Memory of a Back. The author is a female photographer, who also studied in a Master’s program at the California Institute of the Arts.

In the book, Nagashima, who is now a mother, looks back on her own childhood. She focuses on memories of her family: her grandmother, mother, father, brothers, and uncle. The book is a portrait drawn not with pictures, but with words. Normally, people take pictures to preserve (eternally?) the reality of a single moment. People often assume that these photographs capture the entirety of a moment. But, for certain things, that’s not the case. In order to capture these things, Nagashima, the photographer/writer, has decided to use words.

Nagashima does not just reminisce about her childhood, nor does she return to that period and describe the world around her from the perspective of a child. The book’s charm lies in its style, which mixes the viewpoints of an adult (the present) and a child (the past). The author’s voice is not entirely that of an adult, nor does she completely revert to childhood. The conflict between these two voices achieves equilibrium–the picture’s focus does not blur, its lines are clear. But, those lines that seem so sharp might be slightly shaky at the edges. Even though I’ve never seen the things she describes, it seems as though I already know them. Nagashima describes scenery that is very familiar to those who were born and raised in the urban Japan of the 1970s, but, when reading this book, even those who don’t know this milieu will be seized by a mysterious feeling of nostalgia.

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is the author of five books of fiction. He received the Asahi New Writers' Award for his first novel Mizu ni Umoreru Haka (Graves Buried in Water) and the Mishima Yukio Prize for his second novel Nigiyaka na Wan ni Seowareta Fune (The Ship Shouldered by the Jolly Bay). He teaches French at Meiji Gakuin University, and has translated Edouard Glissant, V. S. Naipaul and Amitav Ghosh.

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