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“Hi, my name is Christine Piper. Today I’m reading from my novel in progress called Undertow, which is a work of historical fiction about Japanese civilian internment in Australia during World War II. The narrator is a Japanese doctor who worked in Broome.
The sky was clear when I woke this morning. It promised to be another hot, humid day. The kind of day that makes any sort of rational thought difficult, let alone a sustained excursion into the past. I had every intention of staying indoors, but then I remembered the significance of the day: the 40th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombings.
In recent weeks there has been a stream of newspaper articles and television programs in the lead-up to the anniversary, but in the face of such a persuasive campaign my inclination was to ignore it. So I skipped past the articles about the visiting dignitaries, and changed the channel when a documentary about radiation came on. Even when my old friend Yamamoto invited me to join him at the ceremony at Yasukuni shrine, I thanked him but said I had other plans.
The truth is I do not like to dwell on the past. What use is there in remembering when you can’t change what has gone? It may seem an odd sentiment from a man in his seventies, but there was a time when everyone in Japan wanted to forget.
I say this, but when I woke up this morning an odd feeling came over me: I decided to catch the express train to town. The shrine was packed when I arrived. There were speeches from the governor of Tokyo and survivors of the bombings. At the conclusion of the ceremony, a flock of white doves was released, and the sight of them scattering high above the buildings jolted me back to a different place, a place where strange birds roamed the wide blue sky.
I returned home this evening feeling unsettled, and retreated into my study to think about the day’s events.
Now, as I sit at my desk, I can see the persimmon tree outside, its full, ripe fruit tantalisingly close to the windowpane. It makes me think of my childhood. Being hoisted onto Father’s shoulders to pick the reddest fruit at the top of the tree. Later the sweet flesh erupts in my mouth.
And the smell of simmering dashi from the apartment below brings to mind my first winter spent as husband and wife, returning from the hospital each night, the aromas from every home-cooked meal melting into my clothes, my skin, my hair.
And also this button on my cuff with its pearly lustre catching the light. Seeing it draws me back to Broome’s mile-long jetty, where I stand with one hand shielding my eyes from the shimmering sea, the other holding a suitcase with the remnants of my life.”
ABOUT CHRISTINE PIPER:
Christine Piper is a Doctor of Creative Arts candidate at the University of Technology, Sydney, and a freelance journalist. She became interested in the topic of Japanese civilian internment in Australia because her mother is Japanese, although there are no former internees in her family. Undertow is her first novel.
She is a recipient of the Copyright Agency Limited Creative Industries’ Career Fund in 2011, which allowed her to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop summer program. She also edited the 2010 UTS Writers’ Anthology: I can see my house from here.
Christine was awarded a two-week Varuna Writing Retreat Fellowship in 2011, which she took up in February 2012. She has fond memories of the first time she visited Varuna, as a 20-year-old in 1999, to hear Junot Diaz give a reading as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.
Christine’s creative non-fiction, articles and reviews have appeared in Australian Book Review, The Sydney Morning Herald, GQ, NYLON, Women’s Health, Metro, Silverlimbo and Voiceworks, among other publications.
Research on Japanese civilian internees: http://lovedayproject.com
Personal blog: www.thegistonline.net
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