English-born South African author Fugard’s (Lady of Realisation, 2016) collection delivers 15 poems on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and five travel stories of Japan.
This timely and powerful book has been long in the making. The author writes that she first composed its poems in the 1970s after having a vision that showed her “with a mounting sense of horror, that huge clouds had massed in the sky….I was certain that an atomic bomb had exploded out there over the ocean.” Accompanying this sight, she says, were the voices of the dead from the Hiroshima bombing, reaching out to her across time and space. She immediately set to writing the poems, both as an outlet for her vision and as a memorial for the victims of Hiroshima. These free-verse works are difficult to read—not because they are narrowly typeset in a manner that seems reminiscent of traditional Japanese scrolls, but because of the terror of the author’s vision: they’re arresting, unrelenting, and encourage stunned contemplation. She strips her poems of superfluity and leaves the trauma and the weight of that dreadful day: “They are the dead / Who walk ahead / As Christ walked / Their religion the testimony / To the God of the mushroom cloud / Energy / The total atom.” Nevertheless, she doesn’t let her verses slip into hopeless nihilism. Her travel diaries, following the poetry, say that the attack on Hiroshima should not be held up as a cosmos-shattering event but as the consequence of beings trapped in their desires and bound to the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. This Buddhist view of events, Fugard asserts, opens one up to compassion, forgiveness, and healing in the face of one of the most terrible events in human history.
A triumphal work that addresses the incalculable horror of nuclear war yet offers a message of hope that redemption remains possible.