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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Hiroshima Bugi

Gerald Vizenor

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To purchase Hiroshima Bugi

Title: Hiroshima Bugi
Author: Gerald Vizenor
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003
Length: 208 pages
Availability: Hiroshima Bugi - US
Hiroshima Bugi - UK
Hiroshima Bugi - Canada
  • Atomu 57

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Our Assessment:

A- : effective presentation, intriguing fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel . 7/12/2003 Dex Westrum
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2004 Thomas Hove

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hiroshima Bugi is a dance that exposes the vacillation necessary for the preservation of the vital lies of war and capitalism. Its central rhythm is a reminder of our obligation to live lives of peace and reconciliation, burdens that humanity seems to find impossible." - Dex Westrum, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

  • "(A) novel that challenges conventional notions of ethnic, cultural, and stylistic purity. (...) While Roninís adventures are initially difficult to wade into, this collection of stories and commentaries is a fascinatingly eclectic pastiche" - Thomas Hove, Review of Contemporary Fiction

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Hiroshima Bugi is told in alternating chapters. The first set is the narrative of Ronin Browne. The second set is narrated by the Manidoo Envoy, a friend of the father he never knew, another native American who lived with him at the Hotel Manidoo the last years of his life; Ronin finds him when he searches for his father, and spends a month living with him. After leaving:

     Ronin became a storier, and he mailed his journal to me several years later, with vague instructions to provide notes, the necessary descriptive references, and background information on his father and others. The original stories were first scrawled on scraps of paper and later handwritten in seven ledger notebooks.
     Hiroshima Bugi was read out loud at dinner by the storiers named for the day. Ronin would be pleased to hear the creative counts that became part of his tricky stories, and, of course, my commentaries.
       The book thus moves between Ronin's stylized accounts, each chapter titled "Ronin of" ... (from Rashomon Gate through the Ginza to Lafcadio Hearn) and describing a part of his life and his Hiroshima-obsession, and the Manidoo Envoy's glosses on these texts, offering explanations and additional background.
       Ronin is a hafu, half Japanese, half native American. He was born to a Japanese woman, a boogie (hence bugi) dancer, Okichi, and a native American who was stationed in Japan as an interpreter at the end of World War II, Orion Browne, called Nightbreaker. Left in an orphanage, an outcast mixed-race child, Ronin was eventually adopted -- not by any individuals, but by the White Earth Reservation in the US. It is the Manidoo Envoy chapters that fill in most of this biographical detail; Ronin's sections focus on his return to Japan as an adult.
       Ronin's account begins: "The Atomic Bomb Dome is my Rashomon", and it is Hiroshima and the way the dropping of the atomic bomb is remembered, in particular, that raise his ire. The "nuclear destruction of Hiroshima" is time zero for Ronin, and his basic point of reference. He invents an Atomu calendar, reckoning years from that fatal day (hence the subtitle, Atomu 57, the year in which this account is written).
       The stories he relates tell of what he does in Hiroshima, at the memorial -- including pouring gasoline on the Pond of Peace to set it alight and pouring corrosive chemicals over a column of etched peace letters to erase them, as well as more subtle subversive actions meant to force the tourists to consider what they should be confronted with here differently -- , as well as then confronting other aspects of Japan's war-memory in Tokyo.
       The alternating chapters that elaborate on Ronin's writing are a useful complement to, and enhancement of, Ronin's texts. Literary and other sources are cited, Japanese history, customs, and arts are explained, filling out Ronin's tales.
       Hiroshima Bugi is a very effective examination of atomic destruction, and how the generations afterwards have dealt with it. It is also a penetrating examination of Japanese culture, tying together in rather remarkable fashion traditional and outside influences: from kabuki to tattooing to the film, Hiroshima mon Amour, Vizenor utilises the familiar (and explains what is not) and creates a work that is truly insightful.
       Hiroshima Bugi is also more than merely a consideration of the atomic age. The mixing of cultures and cultural influences, and the question of identity, are prominent throughout the book. From the mother's identity as a boogie-dancer to Ronin's embrace of a native American approach to presenting narrative (as he becomes a "storier"), Vizenor constantly emphasises the overlap of cultures. More importantly: he shows what can arise out of it, the book itself, solidly founded on both Japanese and native American history and cultural models, the perfect example of what he means to convey.
       In the Manidoo Envoy's last entry he remarks about Ronin:
The Japanese, he boldly told me, have always been influence by the outside, and at the most critical moments in their history. Theater, art, and literature were saved by outsiders. (...) This irony provided him with a vision and sense of adventure. There were times when he seemed convinced that by shouts, encounters of the kami spirits, and trickery he could create stories of human dignity and survivance, rather than the dead letters of tradition, obedience to the emperor, and peace poses.
       Nowhere is it made explicit, but this book is clearly as much about the native American experience as the Japanese one: the destruction caused by the atomic bomb is clearly comparable to the destruction of much of native American society over the past centuries, the losses as great and devastating. With this book Vizenor is clearly challenging the staid and stale approach that means to preserve the past -- warning that the American Indian approach may well be like the Japanese one, losing itself in strict adherence to often blind tradition. He sees opportunity in utilising outside approaches and methods, believing that culture -- "theater, art, and literature", and more -- can be more fruitfully preserved by not closing oneself off entirely to outside influences but rather adapting them -- as he so adeptly does -- to one's own ends. Ronin's daring slap in the face of the "dead letters of tradition" and "peace poses" do not deny the value of the old, but show that, in order to be relevant, it must be treated not blindly reverently, but with critical engagement. Rarely has an argument for true multi-culturalism been better made.
       Hiroshima Bugi is remarkable book. The narratives occasionally flag, with some repetition making for more circularity than perhaps necessary, but the overall effect of what Vizenor has put together here (and how he has put it together) is impressive. Well worthwhile.

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Hiroshima Bugi: Reviews: Gerald Vizenor: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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About the Author:

       American author Gerald Vizenor was born in 1934. He teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.

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© 2003-2010 the complete review

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