This 2005 novel, recently translated into English for the first time, provides the key to Toriko Takarabe’s poetry and childhood, both of which were defined by Japan’s brief colonial adventure in Manchuria. In 1929, China went to war with Russia to take back the Chinese Eastern Railway and was beaten; Japan stepped between the two in 1932, set up the satellite state of Manchukuo and encouraged its citizens to emigrate to this harsh yet beautiful frontier country. This is the “Heaven” referred to by Masuko, the child narrator of “Heaven and Hell.”

Takarabe’s father was a leader in this project and was usually absent, running pioneer camps for recruits. He left his wife and children at the social center of the bustling town of Jiamusi, its hotel, where they lived in relative comfort in a lively world populated by Russians, Chinese, native Manchus and Koreans. Winters were bitterly cold and bandits lurked in the wilderness, but the children’s life was surrounded by natural grandeur and human interest.

Unable to view this article?

This could be due to a conflict with your ad-blocking or security software.

Please add japantimes.co.jp and piano.io to your list of allowed sites.

If this does not resolve the issue or you are unable to add the domains to your allowlist, please see out this support page.

We humbly apologize for the inconvenience.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.