“Read it. You will be uplifted.”—Ruth Ozeki, Zen priest, author of A Tale for the Time Being
Marie Mutsuki Mockett's family owns a Buddhist temple 25 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In March 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami, radiation levels prohibited the burial of her Japanese grandfather's bones. As Japan mourned thousands of people lost in the disaster, Mockett also grieved for her American father, who had died unexpectedly.
Seeking consolation, Mockett is guided by a colorful cast of Zen priests and ordinary Japanese who perform rituals that disturb, haunt, and finally uplift her. Her journey leads her into the radiation zone in an intricate white hazmat suit; to Eiheiji, a school for Zen Buddhist monks; on a visit to a Crab Lady and Fuzzy-Headed Priest’s temple on Mount Doom; and into the "thick dark" of the subterranean labyrinth under Kiyomizu temple, among other twists and turns. From the ecstasy of a cherry blossom festival in the radiation zone to the ghosts inhabiting chopsticks, Mockett writes of both the earthly and the sublime with extraordinary sensitivity. Her unpretentious and engaging voice makes her the kind of companion a reader wants to stay with wherever she goes, even into the heart of grief itself.
In her memoir, which takes place shortly after the To hoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, novelist Mockett (Picking Bones from Ash) embarks on a poignant spiritual journey through Japan, seeking solace after the death of her American father three years earlier and to bury her Japanese grandfather's bones. Touching on themes of modernity and tradition, Mockett takes part in various religious customs to come to terms with her grief and understand her mixed-cultural heritage. Beautiful folklore like the story of Moon Princess or the celestial princess weaver Orihime imbue the book with a sense of mystery and authenticity. The author's background as novelist is evident in her skilled descriptions of the changing seasons the pink cherry blossoms of spring or the neon rice paddies in autumn which combine with nuanced details of the nation's struggle after the March disaster to provide an intimate snapshot of the island nation's complex culture. Although Mockett's upbringing gives the memoir the sense of an outsider looking in, at times the comparisons of Japan to the West weigh heavy on the narrative and can distract from the story.