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Reviewed by:
  • Fukushima Fiction: The Literary Landscape of Japan's Triple Disaster by Rachel DiNitto, and: The Earth Writes: The Great Earthquake and the Novel in Post–3/11 Japan by Koichi Haga
  • Karen Thornber (bio)
Fukushima Fiction: The Literary Landscape of Japan's Triple Disaster. By Rachel DiNitto. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 2019. x, 228 pages. $68.00.
The Earth Writes: The Great Earthquake and the Novel in Post–3/11 Japan By Koichi Haga. Lexington Books, Lanham MD, 2019. xviii, 129 pages. $90.00, cloth; $85.50, E-book.

It has been a decade since the March 11, 2011, Triple Disaster—the 9.0 magnitude earthquake off Japan's northeast coast, the massive tsunami that reached over 125 feet and inundated more than 150 square miles, and the level 7 nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant—that altogether claimed the lives of more than 18,000 people and displaced more than 470,000. Official memorials for the ninth anniversary of the triple disaster were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, but individuals still gathered in small groups across Japan to pay tribute to those whose lives were lost or dramatically altered. For many, recovery remains elusive.

Japanese writers began speaking about the Triple Disaster almost immediately. Just two weeks after 3/11, Nobel Prize laureate Ōe Kenzaburō wrote in The New Yorker, "Therein lies the ambiguity of contemporary [End Page 259] Japan: it is a pacifist nation sheltering under the American nuclear umbrella. One hopes that the accident at the Fukushima facility will allow the Japanese to reconnect with the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to recognize the danger of nuclear power, and to put an end to the illusion of the efficacy of deterrence that is advocated by nuclear powers" (p. 60).1

In the weeks, months, and years that followed 3/11, Japanese writers, including Ōe, created over two hundred novels and countless short stories and writings in other genres that engaged with the disaster and its aftermaths. Scholars of Japanese literature, writing in Japanese, English, and other languages, have not been far behind. Particularly welcome among English-language studies of Fukushima writings are the first two monographs devoted to this subject: Rachel DiNitto's Fukushima Fiction and Koichi Haga's The Earth Writes (an adaptation of his Posuto 3.11 shōsetsuron: Osoi bōryoku ni kōsuru jinshinsei no shisō [2018]), both published in 2019. As these volumes make clear, literature that engages with 3/11 is a diverse corpus, DiNitto noting, "Fukushima fiction ranges widely in terms of genre, style, voice, and the treatment of the disaster. There is no unified vision in this literature and the themes are varied" (p. 8). Not surprisingly given this diversity, there is minimal overlap between DiNitto's and Haga's extensively researched volumes, making both essential reading for students and scholars of Japan as well as nuclear culture.

DiNitto's astute Fukushima Fiction is divided into four chapters, framed by an introduction and an epilogue. The focus of this book is "those works that illuminate compelling and significant issues regarding the disaster and the development of new literary trends" (p. 19). More specifically, DiNitto pays closest attention to fiction writers "who re-create the experience, give voice to the struggles of the victims, write new histories of the affected regions, locate this disaster alongside Japan's history of natural and atomic tragedies, and imagine a dark future where living with radiation has become the norm" (p. 19). Chapter 1, "Voices from the Debris: Cultural Trauma and Disaster Fiction," examines how victims are portrayed both inside and outside the disaster zone (as far away as Europe), and "how these different positions affect the narrative of trauma" (p. 20). Moreover, unlike Japan's literature of the atomic bomb, the literature of 3/11 is written primarily by individuals not directly affected by the disaster. As DiNitto notes, "Fukushima fiction reveals not only the struggles and losses of the immediate victims, but the mindset of outsiders who went to the disaster area and experienced guilt and trauma as they also tried to come to terms with what had happened" (p...