“Early on in Irradiated Cities we encounter this sentence, tucked in a parenthetical: ‘(it always seems to be clear on catastrophic days).’ Catastrophe wipes away certainty and tips us all into a state of ‘seems,’ of looking at one thing in the changed light of another, of seeing a landscape in relation to what it no longer holds, of recognizing the human face within the seemingly limitless horror of what humans are capable of inflicting on ourselves and our environment. This book, a sifting and circling, a calm and masterful layering of voices and vantage points, a slowly emerging portrait of four different Japanese cities and their inhabitants, resists any effort at arrivals or conclusions. By doing so, it shows us that while we may have an accumulation of facts for what happened on a particular day in a particular place, perhaps even the names and words and pictures of the people to whom catastrophe struck, and would not let go, it is within the dark sedimentation and the feather- light drift of history that we might glean what yet remains, and gives off light, to summon and trouble us still.” – lê thi diem thúy
The before, the after, and the event that divides. In Irradiated Cities, Mariko Nagai seeks the dividing events of nuclear catastrophe in Japan, exploring the aftermath of the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. Nagai’s lyric textual fragments and stark black and white photographs act as a guide through these spaces of loss, silence, echo, devastation, and memory. And haunting each shard and each page an enduring irradiation, the deadly residue of catastrophe that leaks into our DNA.
This title is released as an open access second edition as part of the punctum Special Collections project.
Winner of the 2015 NOS Book Contest, as selected by guest judge lê thi diem thúy.
“Irradiated Cities: poetry wars, unjustifying Hiroshima, and public intellectuals with Cassandra Atherton,” Book(ish) with George Dimarelos S2E22, June 29, 2021.
Born in Tokyo and raised in Europe and the US, Mariko Nagai studied English/Creative Writing – Poetry at New York University. Her numerous honors include the Erich Maria Remarque Fellowship from NYU, fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Cennter, UNESCO-Ashberg Bursaries for the Arts, Yaddo, Djerassi, Akademie Schloss Solitude, amongst others. She has received the prestigious Pushcart Prizes both in poetry and fiction. Nagai’s collection of poems, Histories of Bodies, won the Benjamin Saltman Prize from Red Hen Press, and her first collection of stories, Georgic: Stories won the 2009 G.S. Sharat Chandra Fiction Prize from BkMk Press. Her other works include Dust of Eden (Albert Whitman), Irradiated Cities (Les Figues Press), Under the Broken Sky (Henry Holt), and Body of Empire (Tarpauline Sky Press). She is Professor of Creative Writing and Japanese Literature at Temple University Japan Campus in Tokyo.
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