Elegiac, Profound and Astoundingly Beautiful: Paul Xylinides’s The Wild Horses of Hiroshima ★★★★★

An incredible thing happened to me this week.  While searching Twitter for literary authors, one tweet, blurred into a myriad of others, bubbled to the oily surface of my handheld device.  It was a sweetly succinct and poetic sentence tweeted by someone with a painted profile picture, giving me the impression it was some spam-tweeting robot that merely posted inspirational quotes from famous dead people.  It being Twitter, I continued to scroll until that bizarre sentence finally seeped through the vestiges of my sleep-deprived consciousness, and I found myself scrolling upwards again to give it a second look.  I had just discovered Paul Xylinides, who might very well turn out to be one of the most important novelists of our time.

The Wild Horses of Hiroshima begins where you might expect, the destruction of that city, played out through the eyes of Miyeko, a little girl whose father, in the wake of war, banned her from reading The Last of the Mohicans – another novel about racial identity in times of war.  The destruction of Hiroshima as seen through the eyes of Miyeko and a B52 pilot, manages to be both devastating and arrestingly beautiful, a feat incredibly hard to pull off, which in lesser hands might come off as twee, but which actually plays out, like the rest of the novel, something akin to Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour written by a nineteenth century poet-novelist.

wild horses

Although the bombing of Hiroshima sets into motion the events of the book, the pain and confusion of all the characters might well be placed into a broader context of the past, humanities violent history, a wound Miyeko’s son Yukio, through his own fiction, attempts to address and absolve us from.  All the characters are affected by the bomb – Miyeko herself, Jonathan Springborne, Yukio and Satoko, the ‘fictional’ creations of Yōkō and Mura – in a story as much about diaspora and existential survival in a world where everyone feels “cold, distant, and outside of time.”  Strangely, however, although they find themselves outside of mainstream Japan, they still remain inextricably linked to it, not just through the shock waves of the bomb, but through earthquakes and tsunamis and the violent and lingering presence of Japanese history.

These themes are of course subtextual in a novel entrenched in nineteenth century literature, yet for all that, the work is deeply modern.  There is a postmodern metafictional aspect in the novel: the story within a story, where the lives of Yukio and Satoko are mirrored in the ‘fictional’ lives of Yōkō and Mura.  Both Yukio and Yōkō have dead fathers, both were rebuffed by girls at an early age, and both seek a balm for their wounded souls through physicality (the former through sumo wrestling, the later through gangster life).  What’s interesting and really quite cool about this is that when we read about Yōkō, we do not follow him through words written by Yukio, but through the narration of Xylinides himself, which blurs the lines between the story within the story, between fiction and non-fiction, making the wavering border of a Japanese inner and outer life fluid and translucent.

But for all its fluidity, it’s only fair to mention that often Wild Horses is a difficult novel, possibly exacerbated by the lack of commas early on; however, even if these commas been there, it would still not have been an easy read, but at least the author’s style of prose, although at times difficult, is always rewarding.

Which beings me to my final point.  Because if you were in any doubt about whether this novel was worth your time based on what I’ve said so far, I’m hoping that, what I’m about to say will, not only sway you towards reading it, but will be the thing you enjoy most about the book, the thing that really blew me away.  The prose.  The elegant, mind-twisting sentences.  This guy can weave sentences – some of the most beautiful, poetic and perfect sentences you could ever hope to come across.  I do not say this lightly.  He’s written some of the most incredible sentences ever put on paper.  There were times when I laughed out loud in pure joy at the sheer mind-boggling wizardry of Xylinides’s writing.  I was going to pepper my review with some examples, but you really should discover them for yourself.  But for those in any doubt, here’s a short one:

“Dark twisted tree branches spouted leaf-hung filigrees where a breeze folded origami from the air.”

If you have any interest in literary fiction it’s essential you read and review this important and dazzling book.

Oh, and in case you’re interested, Xyclinides tweets random sentences from his works in progress, and that was one of the tweets I stumbled upon, and I’ll leave you with it.

 “A spider web of stars caught the struggling mind until sleep brought an illusion of escape.”

The Wild Horses of Hiroshima is available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Read my review for Paul Xylinides's debut, An American Pope