Soft, delicate, graceful and gentle - these are the words that come to mind as one moves through the pages of Mary Yukari Waters’ The Laws of Evening. Waters debut collection of short stories has as its underlying theme Japan during the post-Second World War years. Though set in the WWII era, Waters’ book is no tale of battles, warriors, soldiers or politicians. Instead she writes about the widowed women, the orphaned children, the old parents - those left in the wake of war who must follow through its aftermath and struggle to bring a semblance of stability to their own lives.
Each story is also a celebration of the indomitable human spirit. Although Waters refrains from narrating dramatic sequences or events, the feeling of loss is conveyed in a very unobtrusive way. The slow demise of the traditional Japanese culture, the gradual fading away of practices like the tea ceremony, the correct degree of bowing, the art of flower arrangement are apparent while Waters’ characters attempt to rise in subdued and understated ways over human failures and foibles. This understated and gentle treatment of the plots is in essence the greatest strength of the book.
In “Shibusa”, the manner in which the stoic Goto conducts herself so as to not embarrass Nishimato, an old acquaintance who has fallen into bad times, is very touching. Goto lives alone, yet we are told only in passing, without much fanfare, of how her husband and son were killed by bombs a few years back. In “Aftermath” a mother watches the new Western influences of bread, cheese and baseball creep up on her small son and feels saddened by the fact that he will reminisce over the wrong things of childhood later in life. In “Rationing”, a son finally understands and penetrates his father’s mask, a mask worn thorough the war years of loss, defeat, surrender, and later the rebuilding of the new Japan.
With The Laws of Evening, Mary Yukari Waters makes a brilliant debut and leaves her readers hankering for more. Her next book will most certainly be eagerly awaited.