The Grave on the Wall


Product Details

$16.95  $15.76
City Lights Books
Publish Date
4.9 X 7.9 X 0.7 inches | 0.55 pounds

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About the Author

Brandon Shimoda is the author of six books of poetry, most recently The Desert (Song Cave, 2018) and Evening Oracle (Letter Machine Editions, 2016), which received the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. His memoir and book of mourning, The Grave on the Wall (City Lights, 2019) received the 2020 PEN Open Book Award. His writings on Japanese-American incarceration have appeared in/on The Asian American Literary Review, Densho, Hyperallergic, The Margins, and The New Inquiry, and he has given talks on the subject at the University of Arizona, Columbia University, Fairhaven College, and the International Center of Photography. He is also the co-editor, with Thom Donovan, of To look at the sea is to become what one is: An Etel Adnan Reader (Nightboat Books, 2014). Born in the San Fernando Valley, California, he lives, for now, in Tucson, AZ.


Longlisted for 2020 PEN Open Book Award

Best of 2019: Nonfiction - Entropy Magazine

"Shimoda brings his poetic lyricism to this moving and elegant memoir, the structure of which reflects the fragmentation of memories. [Shimoda] looks for his grandfather's [Midori's] origin story in Nakanose, a town near Hiroshima that may no longer be whole; pieces together the ugly history of the U.S. internment camps, and wrestles with the remove at which he views his grandfather toward the sunset of his life. 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

"[I]lluminates the tensions that exploded with World War II and the aftershocks within his family. ... Shimoda wades through memories and dreams; lives and graves that have no names documented; unspeakable horrors committed by the country where his grandfather lived on the people of his native country; and the attempts to memorialize what is too graphically terrible to remember. By the end, writes the author, 'I was just learning how to see.' A memoir of sorts that blurs the boundary between the personal and the universal."--Kirkus Reviews

"Intergenerational knowledge must be actively sought, researched and retrieved--it's not a given. But while attentive to the work of remembering, Shimoda also writes through the slipperier terrain of experiencing one's ancestry in the present, never fully manifest but felt and lived."--Frieze

"In this memoir, Shimoda, an American poet of Japanese descent, tells the story of his family, starting with his grandfather, who was transformed into an 'enemy alien' by World War II; and in doing so, tells a universal story of the horrors of war both physical and emotional, and the tensions that linger among people long after the wars are over."--Literary Hub

"Shimoda outlines the mysteries behind the unspeakable violence that occurred, revealing its horrors through his grandfather's FBI files, photographs and fragmented memories."--Colorlines

"Relying on his skills as a poet, Shimoda enhances the elusive details of [his grandfather's] life with his own journeys of discovery, creating an impressive prose debut. The compelling result is a meditative memoir-of-sorts about his grandfather, his extended family, his ancestral heritage, and ultimately himself as a 21st-century Japanese American. ... Through his expansive pursuit, Shimoda alchemizes his family's recollections and confessions, his country's trespasses, his legacy of loss, into elegant, haunting testimony."--Shelf Awareness, starred review

"Shimoda travels to places from Midori's life to tell not just the story of his grandfather, but also of himself and of the racist history that, then as now, has damaged families and excluded many from citizenship. Along the way he sees much that has been irredeemably ground to dust. His book is a memorable and memorializing work that depicts the pain of trying to recover what can never be regained, from lost lives to a lost sense of home that transcends generations."--High Country News

"The Grave on the Wall by Brandon Shimoda gave me a poetic and stunning memoir about his search to find out more about his grandfather who lived through Japanese internment in the United States. I continue to recommend this book to everyone and anyone."--Marcos Gonsalez, The Millions

"Brandon Shimoda made a book of prose and it is astonishing. ... The Grave among other things reads as a feat to me, as if something truly massive were fit into two hundred pages, without compromise or shortcut or disassembly or surgery. As if an impossible and entire monolith were fit between the covers. I imagine a thoughtfully planed beam of hardwood from a temple otherwise destroyed. Both locating and dislocating us, the marvel of its accomplishment hovers ominous and irreducible, a whole and deep act or care."--Nabil Kashyap, Full Stop

The Grave on the Wall, with its haunting search for identity, is an excellent place to plunge into Shimoda's body of work where lines may resonate in the reader's heart, deeper than one imagined it could go."--Patricia Wakida, Nichi Bei Weekly

"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

"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 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

"Brandon Shimoda's The Grave on the Wall is a brilliant book that lands somewhere between a memoir and essay. It dances dazzlingly between these modes with the brilliant and oblique logic of a great poem. ... Using his family as a cypher, Shimoda investigates the xenophobia of the United States, the cruel and arbitrary nature of nations and borders, and the irreconcilable horror of the atomic bomb and Japanese internment camps. We see how the narratives of families is also that of politics. The Grave on the Wall says so much so quietly about our current moment and the enormous grandeur and terror of history that we all must contend with."--Simon Crafts, Alley Cat Bookshop, San Francisco

"Then there was the superb The Grave on the Wall by Brandon Shimoda, an elegy to his grandfather, moving between personal grief and historical trauma. It reminded me of Sebald, an effect enhanced by the haunting black and white photos interspersed throughout."--Christopher Phipps, City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco