Heaven and Hell: A Novel of a Manchukuo Childhood

Hardback: $68.00
ISBN-13: 9780824875404
Published: September 2018
Paperback: $24.00
ISBN-13: 9780824876555
Published: September 2018

Additional Information

144 pages
  • About the Book
  • Takarabe Toriko’s autobiographical novel Heaven and Hell is a beautiful, chilling account of her childhood in Manchukuo, the puppet state established by the Japanese in northeast China in 1932. As seen through the eyes of a precocious young girl named Masuko, the frontier town of Jiamusi and its inhabitants are by turns enchanting, bemusing, and horrifying. Takarabe skillfully captures Masuko’s voice with language that savors Manchukuo’s lush forests and vast terrain, but violence and murder are ever present, as much a part of the scenery as the grand Sungari River.

    Masuko recounts the “Heaven” of her early life in Jiamusi, a place so cold in winter her joints freeze as she walks to school. She accepts this world, with its gentle ways and terrible brutality, because it is the only home she has known. Masuko feels at ease wandering among the street vendors hawking their hot and sticky steamed cakes or watching the cook slaughter ducks for dinner, and takes pleasure in following the routines of her Chinese, Russian, and Japanese neighbors. Her world is shattered in 1945, when she and her family must flee their adopted home and struggle, along with other Japanese settlers, to return to Japan. This second half of the book, the “Hell” of refugee life, is heartbreaking and disturbing, yet described with ferocious honesty.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Takarabe Toriko, Author

      Takarabe Toriko was born in 1933 in Niigata prefecture. Two months after her birth, she left with her parents to live in Manchukuo. Following repatriation with her family in 1946, she went on to become one of Japan’s most eminent poets. She is particularly noted for her evocations of her youth and has received numerous prizes for her work over a long career.
    • Phyllis Birnbaum, Translator

      Phyllis Birnbaum is a novelist, biographer, journalist, and translator. Her translation Confessions of Love, a novel by Uno Chiyo, won the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature. Her most recent biography is Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Toriko's novel is a powerful evocation of a period in which Japanese colonists, Russian hunters and merchants, Communist Chinese agents, Indigenous local populations and Chinese urban elites co-existed in an awkward, frontier-style peace . . . Heaven and Hell packs a powerful punch. Toriko succeeds remarkably in reconstructing her child's-eye perspective of life in the colonial settlements and then the war. . . . Heaven and Hell is an important read: a superb autobiographical novel depicting a still controversial period of Asian history, and a poignant portrayal of colonialism and the myriad tyrannies of which its legacy is comprised, all contained within an intelligent, compelling, perfectly crafted child's-eye narrative.
    • This 2005 novel, recently translated into English for the first time, provides the key to Toriko Takarabe’s poetry and childhood, both of which were defined by Japan’s brief colonial adventure in Manchuria. . . . The images of death are powerful and terrifying . . . Equally dark is the psychological portrait of the child Masuko descending into a self-centered struggle for survival, scrounging for scraps among corpses. A powerful and important book.
      —The Japan Times
    • [In one scene] the details, including the smells in the room, are then piled on one after the other with sickening realism, but this is how Takarabe writes: the rawness of the prose stresses the brutality, and when we realize that this is an eleven-year old experiencing these things and remembering them so graphically at such a distance in time, the fact that these people are Japanese no longer matters. This is refugee life at its worst. . . . Takarabe’s effectiveness as a writer lies in her description of contrasts and her understanding of what happens in a child’s mind as she experiences various things.
      —John Butler, Asian Review of Books
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