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Tsubaki by Aki Shimazaki , Translated by Fred A. Reed

Finalist for QWF Translation Prize in 2001


Tsubaki (‘camellia’ in Japanese) tells a story of betrayal and vengeance set against the nuclear blast that destroyed Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. The image of the camellia, the red flower that stands out against its dark green leaves, runs through Aki Shimazaki’s stark, finely-wrought novella.

Aki Shimazaki’s narrative unfolds through a series of death-bed letters in which Namiko’s mother Yukiko reveals the truth of her grandfather’s death by poison at his daughter’s hand.

As Tsubaki opens, Namiko’s son plies his grandmother with questions about the war and the atomic bomb. With compassionate detachment she reminds him of her country’s history of wartime atrocities; perhaps it was for the best that the Japanese empire was defeated. As Namiko listens while preparing mint tea, she cannot imagine that her mother has been speaking only of Japan, but of herself, of her own unavowed crime.

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English, translated from French