- Fukushima Fiction: The Literary Landscape of Japan's Triple Disaster by Rachel DiNitto
Reading Rachel DiNitto's Fukushima Fiction: The Literary Landscape of Japan's Triple Disaster while in quarantine due to the global outbreak of COVID-19 reinforces my belief in the relevance of paying attention to cultural representations of situations of exceptionality. As Giorgio Agamben discusses in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, periods and episodes of exceptionality create the framework and the tools not only to manage the extraordinary but also to (re)shape the norm.1 The so-called 3/11 disasters—the Great Tōhoku Earthquake of 11 March 2011 and the ensuing tsunami and nuclear meltdowns—were inscribed in Japan's collective memory as a watershed moment symbolizing the country's contemporary challenges. Although the sense of urgency that emerged then has faded with the years—an attitude of dismissal perhaps not coincidentally aligned with the needs of Japan's government—the literary reaction has gathered, processed, and crystallized these demands in ways that defy official forgetting. The present book is a worthy effort to map the literature that responded to the 3/11 disasters, the themes and debates it engaged with, and its relationship to the catastrophe and its aftermath.
Fukushima Fiction, parts of which have been previously published, engages almost exclusively with literary works; readers interested in cinematic representations of 3/11 can consult DiNitto's articles on that topic.2 This book is part of a growing body of research in English on 3/11 literature (also called Fukushima literature or post-Fukushima literature; I, like many other scholars, use these terms interchangeably, although with a critical awareness of their connotations). So far this corpus has been mostly comprised of articles or chapters in collaborative editions, but there have also been other monographic works, including Fukushima and the Arts and These Things Here and Now: Poetic Responses to the March 11, 2011 Disasters.3 DiNitto's book, however, has the particularity of focusing on literary fiction. Although the author refers to an abundance of literary texts and writers to illustrate her points, Fukushima Fiction is not an anthology, but rather a critical study of sociopolitical concerns associated with literary representations. [End Page 404]
DiNitto structures her book in a conventional manner: an introduction, four chapters, and an epilogue. As she explains in the introduction, each chapter constructs a thematic framework through which to comprehend Fukushima fiction. DiNitto uses the image of Fukushima's map of concentric circles of contaminated zones to illustrate a rationale of organization based on symbolic proximity to the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the emblematic epicenter of literary responses to the triple disaster. The reader progresses from attempted firsthand representations of the direct aftermath of the tragedy in chapter 1 to overarching transnational discussions of the role of nuclear energy and weapons and their literary representations in chapter 4. DiNitto's divisions are tightly knit together but still independent of each other. The structure helps the reader acquire a sense of the multidimensional nature of Fukushima literature while at the same time emphasizing the interdependence of each of these debates. I wonder, however, how effectually the concentric map device contributes to this organizational feat. DiNitto asks the reader not to conceive of her discussion of Fukushima literature as a chronological progression that mirrors the metaphorical outward movement from a common center, and, in fact, her continual jumping back and forth between the different literary works makes it hard to get a sense of when a specific text was written. I would argue that knowing the chronology of literary production can help readers assess the tensions behind the creation of a cultural narrative of the event. This reservation notwithstanding, the arrangement of the book remains solid, the themes are engaging, and the author brilliantly succeeds in avoiding repetition.
The criteria used to plan, design, and write a book such as Fukushima Fiction reflect the nature of the questions Fukushima literature, its object of study, struggles to...