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.
Born on an island off the cost of Hiroshima around 1908, Midori Shimoda died in North Carolina in 1996, after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for two decades. A photographer, he was incarcerated in a Department of Justice prison during WWII under suspicion of being a spy for Japan. From his birth to contract laborer/picture-bride parents to his immigration and prewar life in Seattle's Nihonmachi, to wartime incarceration and postwar resettlement in New York City, his is a story of a man and a family vying for the American dream earnestly, but not without some bitterness.
Poet Brandon Shimoda has crafted a lyrical-collage portrait of a grandfather he barely knew, and a moving meditation on memory and forgetting. The book begins with Midori's first memory (washing the feet of his own grandfather's corpse) and ends with the author's last memory of him. In between are vignettes of camellia blossoms, picture brides, suicidal monks, ancestral fires, great-grandmothers, bathhouses, atomic bomb survivors, paintings, photographs, burial mounds, golden pavilions, and dementia. In a series of pilgrimages he makes, from his own home in the Arizona desert to the family's ancestral village in Japan, to a Montana museum of WWII detention where he discovers a previously unknown photographic portrait of his grandfather, Shimoda records the search to find his grandfather—and therefore himself.
Praise for The Grave on the Wall:
"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
"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
"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