Before returning to Kure, from her first visit home since getting married, Suzu goes on a walk to draw some of the sites in her new notebook. “Goodbye, Hiroshima,” she says in front of the Hiroshima Train Station. It’s March 1944, and Suzu doesn’t mean anything more than to say farewell to the city she grew up in. There’s personal significance, in the fact she’s moving in with a husband she barely knows, and running a household with his parents for the first time, but anything more than that comes from the reader’s projection.
Fumiyo Kouno’s In This Corner of the World is set during WWII but, even if it weren’t, what happened to Hiroshima in August 1945 is the free association that follows any mention of the city’s name. In the place where the first atomic bomb was dropped, Suzu’s story takes us to that day, and the months following it, in the country where it happened, but for volumes one and two, of Kouno’s three volume book, none of the characters know that. When Kure starts to get hit by heavy bombing early that summer, Suzu’s sister, Sumi, tries to convince Suzu to come back. At the time, Hiroshima is the safer place to be.
The atomic bomb is the tragedy that overshadows the war, but for civilians living in Japan, wartime conditions had been infringing on their lives long before that. Through Suzu, Kouno recognizes the everyday, domestic challenges of living in a war zone. Panels can act as Suzu’s pantry, keeping track of what rations are left, as she tries to design meals to make them last. They can also be a birds-eye view of Suzu gardening mustard spinach sprouts that turn into houses being x-ed out for evacuation (a side note explains this plan was referred to as ‘house pruning’).
At over 400 pages, In This Corner of the World digs in where other books would cut off. When Suzu sews her first kimono, Kouno devotes space to the entire process, proclaiming Suzu’s accomplishment to be the big deal that it is. Without a book or the internet for help, Suzu gains experience by doing and tackling every chore that comes her way.
The story’s choice not to rush the plot extends to character development as well. Piece by piece we learn more about Suzu’s sister-in-law, Keiko, but Kouno makes you wait to see the whole picture. Suzu’s marriage to Shusaku is a slow courtship. Romantic resolution doesn’t come fast, private conversations are far in between, and there are love triangles, if more mature ones than any Hollywood’s used to seeing.
The biggest surprise of In This Corner of the World is the way it involves fantasy. Suzu is a dreamer, often told she has her head in the clouds. The opening scene is her being kidnapped by a goblin and using seaweed to escape. Everything points to this scene being imagined, but when she meets people later who are vaguely familiar, there’s an ambiguity to her ‘dreams’ that’s unexpected and interconnected.
Volume three is when the book becomes what you initially picture after learning what In This Corner of the World is about. Reading through this section is one big knot in the stomach, and I’m not sure who to credit for the historical footnotes, whether they’re a new addition or part of the text, but Seven Seas Entertainment has designed a beautiful edition of this work for English readers.
From being the young bride who feared moving away, Suzu’s life changes dramatically in what you realize was an incredibly short amount of time. In This Corner of the World should be added to school reading lists. Once discovered, it will be a modern classic.
In This Corner of the World
Story and Art by Fumiyo Kouno
Translation: Adrienne Beck
Lettering and Retouch: Karis Page
In This Corner of the World is available now. An animated movie based on the book was relased on Blu-ray and DVD in November.