Hikaru Okuizumi's The Stones Cry Out traces 20-odd years in the life of World War II veteran Tsuyoshi Manase, a timid bookseller and amateur geologist who struggles to suppress a troubled conscience. More novella than novel, this brief but keenly realized story--for which Okuizumi won the Akutagawa Prize, one of Japan's highest literary awards--is a stark, disturbing, but ultimately redemptive meditation on remembrance and mortality.
At the novel's outset, Manase, weakened by malaria and hunger, finds himself languishing in a jungle cave with other hapless soldiers, many of whom are near death. The scene is hellish, fuel for future nightmares. "Even the most ordinary pebble has the history of this heavenly body we call earth written on it," a faltering lance corporal explains, a cryptic and riveting truth that sustains Manase and that he spends the rest of the novel attempting to unravel. When the war ends--and with the corporal's words still lingering--he opens a bookstore and then devotes himself to collecting stones. This obsession puzzles the woman he marries but becomes his only means of mooring a war-shadowed life.
Throughout, like some mute audience, is his immense and patiently gathered stone collection, evidence of Manase's desire for order and his need to understand something more enduring than his own passing life. The Stones Cry Out is a heartbreaking and harrowing tale, one whose most remarkable achievement is that, like the stones of its title, it reveals something greater than itself. --Ben Guterson