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Novel depicting Japanese-Americans' struggles wins Mishima Yukio literary prize

Yusuke Miyauchi holds his novel "Kabul no sono" ("Garden of Kabul") at a press conference in Tokyo's Minato Ward on May 16, 2017. (Mainichi)

Author Yusuke Miyauchi on May 16 received the 30th Mishima Yukio Prize for his novel "Kabul no sono" ("Garden of Kabul"), depicting the struggles of Japanese-Americans.

    "Just being nominated for this award was like winning the lottery," the 38-year-old Tokyo native said at a press conference. "Actually receiving it was like being struck by lightning on a clear day."

    "I think the real winners of this prize may be the Japanese-Americans I wrote about in this novel," Miyauchi said.

    The novel's protagonist is a third-generation Japanese-American woman living in the United States named Rei. She struggles with her past of being teased and called a "pig," and her continually difficult relationship with her mother.

    "Rei believes that she is not the victim of racial discrimination, and is someone who would sacrifice herself for American ideals," Miyauchi said. The inspiration for Rei draws upon his own experiences of living in New York from age 4 to 12 because of his father's work. "I was the only Japanese person in my elementary school. I was bullied," he remembers.

    Rei goes in search of her roots in the written works of first generation Japanese-Americans who were forced into internment camps during World War II. The connection between the modern history of the US and Japan and Rei overcoming her personal struggles are the focus of the novel, evoking questions about the meaning of true human solidarity and reconciliation.

    Fellow author and member of the prize selection committee Keiichiro Hirano said of the title, "I was moved by the eloquence with which he portrayed human anguish."

    "I think there is something beyond human understanding in novels that is worth taking up the challenge for," Miyauchi said. As it so happens, the release of "Garden of Kabul" in January this year aligned with Donald Trump, known for his anti-immigration policies, taking office as president. "I want to continue writing without compromising my ideals," the author said. When asked about what those ideals are, Miyauchi smiled.

    "Is it alright if I leave that a secret? It's all written in the novel."

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