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Academic Norma Field spent the summer of 1995 in Tokyo, observing the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. This is the book that came out of that experience, a compilation of observations, snatched dialogues, musings, anecdotes, fragments and ruminations. The author had already published the highly acclaimed, “In the Realm of a Dying Emperor” a title analyzing the personal and public life of Japan.

From My Grandmother’s Bedside: Sketches of Postwar Tokyo, by Norma Field
204 pages
University of California Press, Memoirs.

The daughter of a Japanese woman and American G.I., Field grew up in Japan, assembling an identity for herself against the backdrop of a country in the postwar era coping with the throes of defeat, but energized by the prospect of forging a new image for itself.

Attending the bedside of her expiring grandmother, who is speechless from a series of strokes, the author’s mind is increasingly preoccupied with recollections of her childhood in the home of her grandparents. Peeling away the layers of time, Field’s thoughts turn to reflections on Japan’s military legacies, to issues relating to “comfort women,” war responsibility, social upheaval and the homogenizing effects of Japan’s postwar economic miracle as the nation fell into lock step, fired up by a collective mission to rebuild itself and claw back its standing in the international community.

If the initial feeling in Field’s writing is defined by improvised riffing, it soon coagulates into a larger and more ambitious experimental book about family, community, belonging and loss.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

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