Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"The Colorless Paintings" by Ineko Sata

"The Colorless Paintings" by Ineko Sata is the fourth selection from The Crazy Iris and Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath (edited and introduced by Kenzaburo Oe) that I have so far read.   It is only thirteen pages long and was first published in a Japanese literary magazine in 1961.  

Ms Sata was born and raised in Nagasaki but was not there when the atomic bomb blast occurred August 9, 1945.    As "The Colorless Paintings" opens the narrator and her friend Y are at the opening day of an exhibit of painting at the very prestigious Tokyo National Museum.   They are looking for painting done by their friend K which are part of the exhibit.   K was a member of the communist party of Japan as was the narrator.   He also had advanced tuberculosis.   They find the paintings.  

The pictures seem like softly moaning heretics..The pictures even remind us of burnt bones...  These posthumous paintings of his completely deny all color.  K, while painting them, repeatedly rejected color..the paintings are powerful precisely because they are colorless, because we see them as an honest expression of the violent drama that took place within him, purity withdrawing into itself.

K's paintings were done after he was diagnosed as having radiation sickness from his presence on August 9, 1945.   K and the narrator were long time associates in the communist party of Japan but she never knew he was exposed to the atomic bomb.   He never spoke of it nor had her friend Y who was also exposed.   K lived the rest of his life in silent anxiety over what the effects of the blast on him might be one day.   Exposure to the bomb was known by the early 1950s to produce high rates of cancer and leukemia in those exposed to it.  They left the exhibit to go to an annually held memorial event for the victims of the bomb.   The event takes place at The Nagasaki Peace Park

Y spoke for the first time about the day when the atomic bomb was dropped.   And because she had done so, K also spoke about it, he too for the first time.   When describing the tragic scene, K seemed to be walking back and forth in the midst of the ruins.   "Everyday I was walking among corpses.   And even after I heard about how K and his friends had wandered around in the radiated area,  I somehow thought of them as being outside the radiation.

The narrator tells us that K died of liver cancer.

The name of the disease is liver cancer.   But what is the name of the thing that deprived this man of all color? What could it be called?   It seems that the ideas suggested by these painting preclude anything that is common place.   They appear to belong to another realm.   They rather seem to be produced by the will to defy, but that defiance had to be painted, even though the colors escaped the artist, and that's why they display an unnamable grief...Y sways and takes a step forward.   It seems as though her body automatically sways and takes a step..Y must have sensed deep in her heart what the paintings were saying.

Ineko Sata  was born in Nagasaki (1904 to 1998)  into a very poor family.   In her late teenage years she worked in a cafe frequented by young literary types.   From these associations she began to write and publish short stories focusing on the problems of  women from poor families.   She began also a life time involvement with the communist party of Japan.   She was briefly expelled from the party when she became an early denouncer of Stalinism.   She married one writer, divorced him and married another.  She was an early advocate of women's right in Japan.   She wrote several highly regarded and prize winning novels but "The Colorless Paintings" appear to be her only works in print in English.   Her longer works have never been translated.    Sata has a great affinity for the beautiful.   "The Colorless Paintings" has kind of a lonely feel to it.

In researching background information on the bombings, I came upon an article Mr Tsutomu Yamaguchi.   He is one of 165 people who were exposed to both atomic bomb blasts.   He wrote a book about his experiences but it is available only in Japanese.   In 2006 the United Nations invited him to take part in a documentary about double A Bomb Victims.   As of this writing he still lives, fighting cancer caused by the blasts. 


Suko said...

Another excellent review of a touching story. The tragedies of war need to be read and remembered.

Mel u said...

Suko-yes you are very right-these stories are all, to me, small world class treasures-

Delilah-thanks and thanks for visiting The Reading Life-

Anna said...

We posted your review on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric

Anonymous said...

Cool site, I hadn't come across earlier in my searches!
Keep up the superb work!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, that was extremely valuable and interesting...I will be back again to read more on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this link, but unfortunately it seems to be offline... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please answer to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at could post it.


Mel u said...

James-normally I do not post anonymous comments but in this case I will-there is no link to this story -it can be read only in the book

@parridhlantern said...

I've probably mentioned this before, but this is a book I want & is on my TBR. Thanks for another tale from an interesting book.
PS, have I mentioned The Showa Anthology, a bit like The Oxford book of Japanese short stories.