From My Grandmother's Bedside: Sketches of Postwar Tokyo

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University of California Press, 1997 - History - 204 pages
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From My Grandmother's Bedside is an experiment in genre, a moving and evocative reflection on contemporary Japan, human desire, family relations, life, and death. Norma Field, the daughter of a Japanese woman and an American G.I., and author of the acclaimed In the Realm of a Dying Emperor, returned to Japan in 1995 to tend to her slowly dying grandmother, who had been rendered speechless by multiple strokes. What she finds--both in the memories of her childhood in her grandmother's household and in the altered face of postmodern Japan--forms the substance of her narrative that transcends both memoir and essay to reveal, through crafted fragments, a refraction of the whole of Japan.
Having spent her childhood in Japan and her adulthood in the United States, Field speaks from the position of one who straddles two worlds. Her testimony is highly personal, her voice is intimate, her observations are keen and clear. She juxtaposes details from daily life--conversations overheard on the subway; arguments between her mother and aunts; the struggle to feed, bathe, and care for her grandmother--with observations on the political and social changes that have transformed Japan. She shows how the belated coming to terms with the war and continuing avoidance of the same are intimately related to the look and feel of Japanese society today. She gently folds back the complicated layers of blame and responsibility for the war, touching in the process on subjects as diverse as the effects of the atomic bomb, comfort women, biracial/bicultural families, the farewells of Kamikaze pilots, and the dehumanizing effects of Japan's postwar economic boom. A recurrent theme is the observation of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war.
From My Grandmother's Bedside is also a contemplation of the many facets of language: the kinds of language with which her grandmother's illness has been negotiated, the wordless language her grandmother speaks, her own relationship to these languages. Through it all runs the realization that the personal and the political are perpetually entangled, that past and present converge and overlap. From My Grandmother's Bedside is an experiment in genre, a moving and evocative reflection on contemporary Japan, human desire, family relations, life, and death. Norma Field, the daughter of a Japanese woman and an American G.I., and author of the acclaimed In the Realm of a Dying Emperor, returned to Japan in 1995 to tend to her slowly dying grandmother, who had been rendered speechless by multiple strokes. What she finds--both in the memories of her childhood in her grandmother's household and in the altered face of postmodern Japan--forms the substance of her narrative that transcends both memoir and essay to reveal, through crafted fragments, a refraction of the whole of Japan.
Having spent her childhood in Japan and her adulthood in the United States, Field speaks from the position of one who straddles two worlds. Her testimony is highly personal, her voice is intimate, her observations are keen and clear. She juxtaposes details from daily life--conversations overheard on the subway; arguments between her mother and aunts; the struggle to feed, bathe, and care for her grandmother--with observations on the political and social changes that have transformed Japan. She shows how the belated coming to terms with the war and continuing avoidance of the same are intimately related to the look and feel of Japanese society today. She gently folds back the complicated layers of blame and responsibility for the war, touching in the process on subjects as diverse as the effects of the atomic bomb, comfort women, biracial/bicultural families, the farewells of Kamikaze pilots, and the dehumanizing effects of Japan's postwar economic boom. A recurrent theme is the observation of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war.
From My Grandmother's Bedside is also a contemplation of the many facets of language: the kinds of language with which her grandmother's illness has been negotiated, the wordless language her grandmother speaks, her own relationship to these languages. Through it all runs the realization that the personal and the political are perpetually entangled, that past and present converge and overlap.
  

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From my grandmother's bedside: sketches of postwar Tokyo

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Field (languages and civilization, Univ. of Chicago) is the daughter of a Japanese mother and an American soldier; she spent her childhood in post-World War II Tokyo at her Japanese grandparents ... Read full review

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Page 175 - Every year without knowing it I have passed the day When the last fires will wave to me And the silence will set out Tireless traveller Like the beam of a lightless star Then I will no longer Find myself in life as in a strange garment Surprised at the earth And the love of one woman And the shamelessness of men As today writing after three days of rain Hearing the wren sing and the...
Page 109 - My grandmother's dementia wove together her capacity for empathy, her assumption of responsibility for the care of others, and the shock of sudden pain and helplessness into a net of terror that would periodically ensnare her. It was the most cruel form of the anxiety to which her kindness had inevitably bound her, given her usually precarious circumstances.
Page 138 - My poststroke grandmother was an almost new person. She seemed to be discovering words as a direct expression of feeling for the first time.
Page 185 - Half the camellias came when my aunt moved because she did not want them to fall into the hands of strangers. My grandmother took in her daughters...
Page 93 - It's a bit like the opening to Anna Karenina all happy families are alike, every unhappy family is unique.
Page 59 - Domon's work is being exhibited and published in a multivolume edition in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war.
Page 61 - Prefecture apparently the only museum in the world dedicated to the work of a single photographer announces that Domon's art demonstrates an exhaustive command of Japanese beauty, Japanese spirit.

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About the author (1997)

Norma Field is Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago, and author of In the Realm of a Dying Emperor: A Portrait of Japan at Century's End (1991) and The Splendor of Longing in "The Tale of Genji" (1987).

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