cover image Irradiated Cities

Irradiated Cities

Mariko Nagai. Les Figues, $17 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-934254-68-4

Atomic fallout fills this latest from poet and fiction writer Nagai (Dust of Eden: A Novel), a tenacious composition of personal narratives, researched details, and the author’s own photographs of Japan. The story moves chronologically through four cities affected by radiation: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo, and Fukushima. Nagai’s descriptions capture something deeper than history books do. By meshing small moments—“organs float in jars with wooden number tags”—and the overarching history in which they occur, Nagai speaks to both the individual and to the unifying social trauma. “Destruction is abstract as long as there are no pictures, as long as there are no testimonies,” she writes, at once arguing for the work in hand and condemning so much hushed-up suffering. From the first atomic blast (or “don”) to the bodies and their unknown, lingering diseases (“his body keeps erupting from within”), she chronicles the sense of unraveling: “It’s safe to let your children play outside : it’s not safe to let your children play outside : no one has ever died from a meltdown : cancer rates will spike in Fukushima.” The book wobbles brilliantly on the border between the known and unknown. (Aug.)