Friday, April 29, 2016

FFB Review: "Shaken: Stories for Japan" Editor Timothy Hallinan

Back in July 2011 I wrote the below review after reading and enjoying the anthology Shaken: Stories for Japan. In the wake of the recent earthquakes that once again have rocked the island nation it seemed a good idea to mention this book as part of Friday’s Forgotten Books hosted by Patti Abbott.

As noted on the cover, this book is “A Collection of Original Fiction for Japan America Society of Southern California's 2011 Japan Relief Fund.”  The authors involved have banded together to create this e-book with all monies raised from sales given to the Japan Relief Fund to aid earthquake relief efforts.  The need remains great in Japan and the aim of this book is to help in some small way while also providing reading pleasure. The book seems to be meeting both goals quite well based on the buzz it has generated.

After a brief message from Douglas G. Erber, President, Japan American Society of Southern California followed by a brief introduction to the book by Editor Timothy Hallinan it is on to the stories. While some are mystery stories and others are fiction, they are all stories of depth featuring complicated characters dealing with heavy burdens. These are not the shallow characters of the latest maga Hollywood style adventure. There are not any lightweight fluff stories in this book either.  It becomes quickly evident to the most casual reader that this is a book of fiction with serious depth and meaning.

The book opens with “Matsushima Bay” written by Adrian McKinty.  The author briefly chronicles a previous trip into the area, near the epicenter of the recent tragic earthquake and what the region means spiritually to so many.  While it is a work of fiction, it reads as nonfiction in the style of a personal and heartfelt narrative.

Naomi Hirahara comes next with “Chirigami” where a resident, Kenbo, of an apartment with very thin walls located somewhere just outside of Tokyo has a new neighbor.  All he knows is that she is a woman and foreigner but she is not British or American.  Times have changed.  Not only does Kenbo have an unattached female neighbor, something unheard of before, but the business he works in is slowly failing.  Thanks to his unknown neighbor, Kenbo’s relationship with others begins to change.

“Gift of the Sea” by Vicki Doudera tells the tale of a daughter of a woman who was destined to die at sea.  The sea was her end but it was also her mother’s beginning in this touching story.

Japan isn’t the only place to suffer major earthquakes that have been devastating. San Francisco has seen its share and serves as setting for “Coolie” by Kelli Stanley. The earthquake has struck, the heart of San Francisco is on fire and Alfred and his rescuer must navigate through the chaos to Golden Gate Park.  Alfred is blinded so he must rely on his rescuer to navigate as well as tell him of the dead horses, the rubble marking collapsed buildings and homes and everything else in this hell on earth this April 18, 1906.

Editor Timothy Hallinan makes his appearance with the powerful story “The Silken Claw.”  It is September 1926 on a movie set where production of a Dr. Zo movie is underway. Shooting of a pivotal scene is underway but the real drama is amongst the cast and crew.

Tom Hickey is 36 and a borderline diabetic in “The Enemy” by Ken Kuhlken.  He owns a supper club and hates what he is doing and the madness of the world. That includes the shocking shooting death of his bartender who was robbed on the way to the bank. Since Tom Hickey also works as a private investigator he intends to find the shooter one way or another.

It has been four long years and finally Eunice Toyama is back home in San Pedro. Internment has changed her home town as well as Eunice. It is 1946, she is 19, and very ready to do business and take care of debts that are due in “The Emperor’s Truck” by Wendy Hornsby.

Unlike many of the stories in this anthology that are set in the past, Cora Black chose present day Tokyo for her setting with “Mosquito Incense.”  Despite the initial modern day setting, the past is the key point of the story where Tokyo in August means heat, humidity and regret in large amounts in this tale rich with visual details and depth of feeling.

“Dead Time” by Dale Furutani powerfully tells the tale of a man in prison waiting to be executed.  Between 8 and 8:30 every day the warden comes to collect the prisoners to be executed that day.  In Japan the day of the execution is not known to the condemned or the family so each day begins with the mounting terror of not knowing if this is the day you die.  Being forced to contemplate death each day gives one time to think.

Reality is harsh for Miki in “Miki’s 19th Birthday” by Stefan Hammond.  Her daily reality is living in a cardboard nest in a tunnel with several other refugees.  She has semi bonded with two other teen girls in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami.  It’s time to find another empty house and get clean--what they call a “shower Invasion”-- as well as take whatever the trio wants.  The problem is the place they picked isn’t empty.

Brett Battles turns in “The Assignment” a tale where Orlando is supposed to pick up a married Japanese national at the airport in ‘Los Angeles.   It is supposed to be a simple pick up, escort Mrs. Tomita to a certain location, and drop her off job.  But, Mrs. Tomita is not everything she appears to be and has her own agenda.

Faith Hasegawa and the narrator were best friends from Junior High until Faith died at 40 from cancer.  In “Faith’s Secret” by Dianne Emley, the past is the theme in a tale that will strike a chord in many readers that grew up in the seventies. Set in Los Angeles this tale about teen issues works no matter where you grew up.

Working customer service from a cubicle is no fun and it certainly isn’t in “Father Knows Best” by Hank Phillipi Ryan.  A difficult boss has to be dealt with and the options are few.

Blending in the local society is a frequent theme of the stories in this book regardless of where they are set. This is certainly true in “Borrowed Scenery” by Rosemary Harris.  A fixture in the neighborhood block, Goria Madison always knew what was going on.  At least, she thought she did. The quiet neighbor next door is a surprise. 

With a name like Cynthia Goldberg, people didn’t expect her to look the way she did.  Thanks to her American Jew father and her Japanese mother, her heritage is mixed and striking as she walks near the tidal basin in March 1994.  It is almost time for the annual “Cherry Blossoms” in Washington D.C.  The setting is more than symbolic in this powerful tale by Debby Mack where the painful legacy of atomic warfare lives on.

Jerri Westerson pens a tale of forced marriage and much more in “The Noodle Girl.”  Haruka has just turned 13 and has been told she is to marry Masaru-Sama.  She unfortunately came to his attention because of her mom and their noodle/tea cart.  If the food had been bad, she could have been safe from him.  Mom is thrilled with her prospects but Haruka is not.

It has been twenty years since he was back to his village. Now the man has an 11 year old daughter.  Both the man and his daughter are abducted in the chilling story “The Missing” by Jeffrey Siger.  Captured by North Korean soldiers they must do what they have to do to survive while keeping secret exactly who they are.

“Enforcer No. 3” has been given his assignment in this hard hitting tale by Gary Phillips.  Tokyo may be having power problems, the city of Sendai may be heavily damaged, but the Yakuza carry on with normal business.  He has work to do with blade and grenade.

Rebecca has her hands full with three kids in “Dusty” by C. J. West.  But instead of all three to see the temple at Kamakura, Jessica plans instead to go to a friend’s home high in a local apartment building. By doing so, she leaves her younger sister Lisa and baby brother Stephen with Mom for the trip.  Within minutes of her leaving their car and joining up with her friend, the ground starts shaking and seemingly won’t stop threatening everything and everyone.

Watanabe Wataru was born into the right family at the right time.  It may be the 11th century in “The Kamo Horse” by IJ Parker, but nobleman Wataru is doing very well.  If he can win the great Kamo race, he can claim the prize of the Emperor’s new horse.  The emperor has selected him to train and ride the horse in the great race but others think the horse is unlucky and dangerous.  Wataru‘s future in the court hangs in the balance but not because of the obvious in this complex mystery tale that finishes the book.

At the very end of this enjoyable book, there is a small explanation about the Japan American Society of Southern California and their work.  Throughout the book after each story and author bio, there are scattered haiku from the book titled Basho: the Complete Haiku translated by Jane Reichhold and published in 2008. Along with a brief note about the passages cited, there is a brief note about the illustrative work created by cover artist Gar Anthony Haywood.

The result is a complex and imaginative work that spans the wide gulf between American and Japan while telling tales that will resonate with many people. These are not fluff pieces dashed off to meet a word count or loosely address a theme. These characters are complex and deep and allow a glimpse into their lives for a few pages.  This is a book of soul and complexity of depth that just happens to support a good cause.

Shaken: Stories for Japan
Edited by Timothy Hallinan
Japan American Society of Southern California
June 2011
E-Book: Kindle Edition

Material supplied by the editor in exchange for my objective review.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2011, 2016

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