Excerpt Wednesday: "In the Woods of Memory" by Shun Medoruma
With the release of Shun Medoruma's In the Woods of Memory on the horizon, we thought it would be apt to pull this week's excerpt from the novel, a book Foreword Reviews lauds as "a subtle yet intense and multilayered portrait of Okinawa during World War II and into the twenty-first century."
In the Woods of Memory is a powerful, thought-provoking novel that focuses on two incidents during the Battle of Okinawa, 1945: the sexual assault on Sayoko, 17, by four US soldiers and her friend Seiji’s attempt at revenge. Narrations through nine points of view, Japanese and American, from 1945 to the present day reveal the full complexity of events and how war trauma inevitably ripples through the generations.
This particular passage takes place in Okinawa during the final days of WWII and follows Seiji, a young Japanese man hiding in a cave after he stabs an American soldier out of vengeance.
"He wasn't sure how many days he'd been awake, but he was so restless and excited that words bounced around in his head and made it impossible to sleep. As he waited with his eyes closed, he suddenly felt something warm on the back of his neck. Before he'd even realized it, the light filtering into the cave had changed to sunlight. He grimaced and squinted at the sparkling rays. Suddenly, a man's voice echoed through the cave:
–Seiji, come out! We know you're hiding in there. If you come out now, you'll be spared. Don't worry. Come on out. Your mom and dad, and everyone from the village, are waiting for you. Don't do anything stupid. The American you stabbed isn't going to die. So even if you're arrested, you'll be able to return home after a while. So come on out!
The person on the megaphone must've been Kayō, the ward chief. During the war, the guy had been the head of the Defense Corps and had spoken of the Americans with loathing. But in the camp, he did an about-face and got himself put in charge of distributing provisions. Before they knew it, Kayō had become the new ward chief. Seiji recalled his father always spitting out, Dirty rat! whenever he saw him. The rat's trying to trick me in order to help the enemy. The bastard only thinks about himself–even though our women are living in desperation. I'll stab him along with the others. Seiji stared at the entrance and waited for the Americans to enter. I'm not afraid of dying. But before I'm shot, I'm taking one or two of them with me. He kept a finger on the grenade pin, so that he'd be ready at any moment. Just wait, Sayoko! I will have my revenge! The ward chief's voice cut off, and a silence like that of the bottom of the ocean filled the cave. Seiji hid and waited with bated breath.
Just then, he heard something fall into the cave. White plumes of smoke rose up toward the light streaming through the opening. Poison gas! Seiji clicked his tongue and immediately poured water from his canteen over a towel, which he then pressed to his nose and mouth. Then he pushed his face into a crack in the wall and tried to suck in fresh air from outside. The gas filling the cave engulfed him and sank deep into his eyes, nose, and skin. Tears poured from his eyes, which began to hurt so much he couldn't open them. Splashing them with water from his canteen made no difference. Mucus poured from his nose and made his towel sopping wet. God of the land! I beseech you to protect me! But Seiji knew that like a poisoned fish floating with its white belly to the surface, his damaged lungs would soon fail, making it impossible to move. He finished off the water in the canteen and sucked in the last remaining scents of the woods and the sea. Then he wiped his eyes with the towel, turned toward the entrance, and lifted his swollen face to the light. Sayoko! Mom! Please protect me! With the grenade in his right hand, and the harpoon in his left, Seiji dashed out of the cave."
For more about In the Woods of Memory or to pre-order a copy for you or a loved one, click here.