Welcome to our Indie Spotlight series, in which TNBBC gives small press authors the floor to shed some light on their writing process, publishing experiences, or whatever else they'd like to share with you, the readers!
Loren Stephens, author of the novel, All Sorrows Can Be Borne, interviews her main character Noriko with the help of her translator, Mitsuko.
Noriko and I are walking through the bamboo forest in
Arashiyama, a train ride from her home in Osaka. The verdant beauty of the swaying bamboo and
the birds chirping in the trees makes this a lovely afternoon – quite a
contrast from what she tells me.
Loren: So Noriko, thank you for treating me to a trip to
Arashiyama, I’ve never been here before.
Noriko: Later we will go to the onsen for a soak in the
Noriko: It is customary in Japan even amongst strangers like
ourselves. And we have our translator,
Mitsuko to explain the rules to you.
I imagined the three little girls from the Mikado. Noriko is in her seventies, although she
looks much younger and walks with a sprightly gait. In fact, she seems somewhat
childlike in her observations about nature – the butterflies, the sun cutting
through the thick bamboo, and the two Americans dressed as Rastafarians who
were being trailed by a group of curious locals who had never seen anyone quite
Loren: What was it like to live through the bombing of Hiroshima?
Noriko: As you know I was born there. I was at school and we
were all ushered to the basement. I waited for an hour in the darkness until my
father came and took me home on his bicycle through the streets that were
filled with dying people. Black rain fell and our neighborhood was in ruins,
but within six months things started to grow in our garden and I went back to
Loren: What did you hope to do when you graduated high
Noriko: I wanted to be a dancer and singer with the
Takarazuka Academy but after all the music and acting lessons my father paid
for, I shamed him by being rejected. They said I was too short, and my voice
wasn’t strong enough. My best friend made the company which was like salt in a
wound. I should have been happy for her, but I wasn’t.
Loren: So what did you do instead?
Noriko: I went to work at my sister’s tearoom in Namba, and
I met my husband who was the manager. He was also a self-taught pianist, and we
used to perform together just for ourselves – and for an occasional passerby. I
remember one night, a beggar pressed his nose against the café window and
watched as we sang together. That was our only real audience.
Loren: Did you want to have children?
Noriko: Not really. I was so disappointed that my dreams had
been crushed, and I was afraid that something might happen to my baby after I
had been exposed to what we learned was radiation.
Loren: But you ended up with a healthy baby boy?
Noriko: Yes, I surprised myself by falling madly in love
with my baby son. My husband referred to our unborn baby as “our love child”
because I became pregnant on our honeymoon. But soon after my husband was diagnosed with tuberculosis,
so our life was turned upside down.
Loren: I understand that he forced you to give your son
away. That must have been heart breaking. How could you have done that?
Noriko: I believed that by giving away my only son, the
pressure that my husband felt about being a father, would be lifted and he
would recover from his illness. During his confinement at a sanitarium, he was
unable to work. The money that I had hidden in a glass jar under the sink
disappeared; I thought about opening a checking account in my own name, but I
never got around to it. I was too busy taking care of my baby and watching out
for my husband whose mood swings were unmanageable. I held the fantasy that my
husband and I might have other children although of course no child could ever
take the place of my first born.
Loren: Where did your son go?
Noriko: My husband promised him to his sister, who lived in
Montana with her Japanese-American husband. I had never met either of them and
didn’t know anything about the small town where he was to live and be raised as
an American. My husband thought he’d have a better life. He lacked confidence
in me that I could be a good mother. Frankly, I was sick a lot of the time as
well – exhausted from working to support us, and I wasn’t sure I could take
care of both my son and my husband.
Loren: Did your husband recover?
Noriko: He died anyway, and I was left a childless widow in
less than a year. I thought I might die.
Loren: What gave you the strength to go on?
Noriko: My religion. I am a follower of Tenrikyo – a sect
that was established by a woman who believes that life is joyous, and that by
sacrificing for others you will find happiness for yourself.
Loren: And is that what happened to you?
Noriko: Why, of course.
Noriko smiled and then laughed which I had come to
recognize as a habit of Japanese who want to cover up their sadness.
Loren: Well, thank you for allowing me to interview you,
Noriko: And now we go to the baths.
We changed out of our street clothes, sat naked on wooden
stools, poured buckets of water over our heads, and then slipped into the tiled
onsen for a relaxing soak. Three little girls from school in Arashiyama –
Noriko, Mitsuko and me.
Loren Stephens is a widely published
essayist and short story writer. Her work has appeared in the LA Times,
the Chicago Tribune, MacGuffin, Crack the Spine, and the New Plains review
among many. She has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. The
memoir, “Paris Nights: My Year at the Moulin Rouge,” by Cliff Simon with Loren
Stephens was named one of the top titles from an independent press by Kirkus
Reviews. She is also the president and founder of the ghostwriting
companies Write Wisdom and Bright Star Memoirs.