Winner of the 2020 PEN Open Book Award
Best of 2019: Nonfiction - Entropy Magazine
The Grave on the Wall is a memoir and a book of mourning, a grandson's attempt to reconcile his own uncontested citizenship with his grandfather's lifelong struggle.
Award-winning poet Brandon Shimoda has crafted a lyrical portrait of his paternal grandfather, Midori Shimoda, whose life—child migrant, talented photographer, suspected enemy alien and spy, desert wanderer, American citizen—mirrors the arc of Japanese America in the twentieth century. In a series of pilgrimages, Shimoda records the search to find his grandfather, and unfolds, in the process, a moving elegy on memory and forgetting.
Praise for The Grave on the Wall:
"Shimoda brings his poetic lyricism to this moving and elegant memoir, the structure of which reflects the fragmentation of memories. . . . It is at once wistful and devastating to see Midori's life come full circle . . . In between is a life with tragedy, love, and the horrors unleashed by the atomic bomb."––Booklist, starred review
"Sometimes a work of art functions as a dream. At other times, a work of art functions as a conscience. In the tradition of Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo, Brandon Shimoda's The Grave on the Wall is both. It is also the type of fragmented reckoning only America could instigate."––Myriam Gurba, author of Mean
"Here we learn that to attempt to recuperate an erased past is an obsessive task, following faint threads into places of memorial, tragic time, aging bodies––the fissures, gaps, and scars of which can never be fulfilled. In the void between, ghosts emerge and disappear as dreams. A photograph on a wall in an obscure museum in an old Montana fort of layered imprisonments becomes our ghost-guide, its playful enigmatic gaze the journey's beginning. In a weaving meditation, Brandon Shimoda pens an elegant eulogy for his grandfather Midori, yet also for the living, we who survive on the margins of graveyards and rituals of our own making."––Karen Tei Yamashita, author of Letters to Memory
"If someone asked me what a poet's history might look and read like, I would say Brandon Shimoda's The Grave on the Wall. It is part dream, part memory, part forgetting, part identity. It is a remarkable exploration of how citizenship is forged by the brutal US imperial forces—through slave labor, forced detention, indiscriminate bombing, historical amnesia and wall. If someone asked me, where are you from? I would answer, from The Grave on the Wall."––Don Mee Choi, author of Hardly War
"In The Grave on the Wall, Brandon Shimoda has conceived a moving monument to his grandfather Midori made not of stone but of fractured memories and dreams, fairy tales and family photographs, pilgrimages to alien enemy internment camps, burial grounds, deserts, and the Inland Sea, all bound together by lambent strands of ancestral and immigrant histories. Within this haunted sepulcher built out of silence, loss, and grief—its walls shadowed by the traumas of racial oppression and violence—a green river lined with peach trees flows beneath a bridge that leads back to the grandson. To read this astounding grave on the wall, to peel back the wall's layers of meaning, reveals less a finished portrait of 'the man made of ash' than a rippling representation of the related forces at play that shape the grandfather's absence."––Jeffrey Yang, author of Hey, Marfa: Poems
"In The Grave on the Wall, Brandon Shimoda pays tribute to the grandfather he never knew, and so for the rest of us, attends to that untold debt we all owe our forebears to whom we owe, if not the ordinary dailiness of lives, then at least basic facts of our existence. The legacy of past generations—though we embody them in some way, so often unknowingly replicate their gestures, tones of voices or facial expressions, maybe the curl of a lock of hair—that inheritance so often goes untold, except that Brandon Shimoda begins here accounting for it, beyond the borders of memory and forgetting, beyond the known and unknown. Shimoda intercedes into the absences, gaps and interstices of the present and delves the presence of mystery. This mystery is part of each of us. Shimoda outlines that mystery in silence and silhouette, in objects left behind at site-specific travels to Japan and in the disparate facts of his grandpa's FBI file. Gratitude to Brandon Shimoda for taking on the mystery which only literature accepts as the basic challenge."––Sesshu Foster, author of City of the Future
"Brandon Shimoda's The Grave on the Wall begins with a sentence that cannot be read. Impossible writing: 'My grandfather had one memory of his childhood in Hiroshima: washing the feet of his grandfather's corpse.' This is a book that can't be repaired or remembered, but which conjoins itself to sub-luminous modes of loss in possible readers. Shimoda is a mystic writer. He puts what breaches itself (always) onto the page, so that the act of writing becomes akin to paper-making: an attention to fibers, coagulation, texture and the water-fire mixtures that signal irreversible alteration or change. Does this book end? Is there a sentence that closes it? Or does it keep being written and forgotten then written again, each time a reader opens it (the book) for the first time? I have never met this writer in person, and perhaps I never will, but he has written a book that touches the bottom of my own soul."––Bhanu Kapil, author of Ban en Banlieue