Review: Blossoms on a Poisoned Sea: A Novel of Love and Betrayal in Minamata, Japan by Mariko Tatsumoto

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This elegantly told yet ultimately horrifying novel is based on the true story of one of history’s most shocking corporate betrayals and industrial disasters.

Yuki is the daughter of a poor fisherman. Kiyo is the son of a senior executive at Chisso, a huge chemical conglomerate. In 1956, they meet and become friends, then gradually fall in love. But then all living things in the once beautiful Minamata Bay suddenly die. The impoverished people living around it begin suffering from a terrifying disease that causes agonizing pain, paralysis, and death . . . including Yuki’s family. With no fish to catch and incapacitated from the disease, her parents are starving. As the sole wage earner, Yuki’s reduced to low-paying, backbreaking work as a laborer, then as a house cleaner.

The city dwellers, who work at Chisso, turn their backs on the lower-class fisherfolk, who largely tend to get the disease. The corporation stonewalls, denying culpability. Kiyo fails to convince his father to get the company to help. As the suffering spreads, Kiyo helps researchers find answers to the devastating neurological disease. But they’re blocked by the government and the corporate-influenced media.

Together Yuki and Kiyo must fight both the Japanese government and a powerful and ruthless corporation to save her family and the bay.

Dear Mariko Tatsumoto,

You contacted DA with an inquiry about reviewing your book and I asked about the young couple getting their happy ending and, after receiving the positive answer, agreed to take the ARC.

Unfortunately, it did not enter my mind to ask another question. Something like did the main character gets raped on page?

So, readers TRIGGER WARNING FOR DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF ASSAULT AND RAPE ON PAGE. It is described as the violent and ugly scene it was, not a scene to make the reader sexually aroused, but still I want a warning if such event would take place in the book so I can decide whether I want to read it or skip it.

There is another possible trigger warning I want to give even though I am a little more conflicted on whether I should give such a warning, because the blurb does talk about pain, paralysis and death for many victims of the disease, but just beware there is a lot of suffering in this book which perfectly fits the story and is not gratuitous at all, does not go on and on, but these moments are shown often and are painful to read about. Moreover, not only people, but also cats catch this disease and there is a description of cat dying in agony because of nerve damage, not able to move his muscles, etc. Just beware.

And now we can get to the story. It really is beautifully written – I could easily see the pictures the author was portraying with her words and I am not the most visual reader.  This is when Kiyo meets Yuki’s family for the first time.

“Two men, in white undershirts and tan pants with rolled hems, were smoking cigarettes, sitting on mats in an open doorway off to one side. Beyond it lay a thriving vegetable garden where four chickens clucked and pecked and squabbled. One man was puffing out perfect smoke-rings. Outside, next to the garden, a lean woman crouched next to a small charcoal brazier. She wore a long-sleeved cotton blouse and dark pants, the usual attire for fishers, to keep the sun off. A thin towel was wrapped and tied at the nape to cover her hair.”

I was debating with myself whether it is correctly labeled as YA romance, because to me it is first and foremost an exceptionally well researched historical novel about the industrial disaster, corporate greed which made this horror go on much longer than it could have been, with the romantic storyline being less important.  I mean, our young couple are at the front and center of the story. They are portrayed as young heroes who together basically stand up against the world, even if in the beginning they are helpless to do much on a large scale.

However, Yuki sacrifices everything to take care of her family where everyone but her got the disease, quits school to do hard work to earn little money and still manages to devote some time to her art. She is a gifted painter. And Kiyo, when he is fourteen, starts to help the researchers who try to find the reasons why people have gotten sick with this disease and also help Yuki’s family as much as he can.

What I am trying to say that the young couple are one of the main characters of the story if not the main ones. I just cannot decide whether their building romance is just as important in the story as their fight for a better future for the other fishermen and their families. I guess every reader can decide it for themselves.

At the end there is an author’s note which just confirmed to me how exceptional her research was. B

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Sirius started reading books when she was four and reading and discussing books is still her favorite hobby. One of her very favorite gay romances is Tamara Allen’s Whistling in the Dark. In fact, she loves every book written by Tamara Allen. Amongst her other favorite romance writers are Ginn Hale, Nicole Kimberling, Josephine Myles, Taylor V. Donovan and many others. Sirius’ other favorite genres are scifi, mystery and Russian classics. Sirius also loves travelling, watching movies and long slow walks.

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