Erika Kobayashi
Erika Kobayashi

A Review of Erika Kobayashi’s “Trinity, Trinity, Trinity”

Radiation Ramblings

“Trinity, Trinity, Trinity” Book Cover

Japan has had a long and storied history with nuclear power. Of course, the country is the only place where an atomic bomb (let alone two) has been dropped during the purposes of war. Don’t forget, too, that Japan suffered when, in 2011, a tsunami and earthquake rattled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant — causing all sorts of radiation to be released into the environment. And we’re not even mentioning nuclear power unleashing the mighty Godzilla yet! (How many times has Tokyo been destroyed?) So, you can understand why Japanese author and visual artist Erika Kobayashi has had an ongoing fascination with the subject matter. Her first book was called Breakfast with Madame Curie, and her second (and first to be published in English) is Trinity, Trinity, Trinity. The book references all sorts of factoids that somehow relate to nuclear power. However, in a world of climate change and COVID-19, I must admit that — no matter how important the subject matter is — Trinity, Trinity, Trinity comes across as a little dated. After all, in this book, the Tokyo Summer Olympics take place in the year 2020. (It was originally published in Japan before the pandemic.) Still, the book has won some acclaim in the author’s native country: it won the 7th Tekken Heterotopia Literary Prize two years ago.

It’s hard for me to really explain the plot of this novel, and I’m pretty sure it’s not because something got lost in its translation. It’s just a rambling treatise about radiation and terrorism. The book follows a family through the course of the day via three unnamed protagonists. There’s a grandmother who is lying in a hospital bed, a mother who is concerned with the plight of the world in the lead-up to the Olympics, and a 13-year-old daughter who loves quasi-goth music. The story is told from the mother’s point of view, largely. In this book, elderly people have become terrorists called Trinities. (Which is a silly concept, to begin with.) The first symptom that they’re about to go rogue involves the fact that they carry around with them a black rock that might contain radiation, and they try to “listen” to it. Then they just start acting more funnily and begin attacking institutions, including what’s left of Fukushima Daiichi. The actual danger that they pose is kind of questionable, but the novel treats it as a serious thing. I get where Kobayashi is going with this: she’s trying to say that we shouldn’t forget what the older generation has gone through, including the use of atomic weaponry in World War II. Some lessons are to be learned from those who came before us, and we’re doomed to repeat history if we forget about them.

However, Trinity, Trinity, Trinity doesn’t have much of a point to it. Some of it is pointlessly gross for shock value. For instance, the mother winds up sitting on a toilet at one point as she menstruates while having cyber sex via text messages on her mobile phone. Sigh. It turns out the whole point of this exchange (if it’s not already shocking enough), is to have something even more earth-shattering happen at the novel’s end. Again, I think I understand the point: it’s the little things that cause something seismic to happen later down the line. At least, that’s what I think the author is trying to say. Aside from that, though, there’s not much that makes sense about Trinity, Trinity, Trinity. The mother protagonist merely goes about her business during a workday as she thinks back to recent and not-so-recent events that happened to her family that somehow involve the fallout of radiation in a fashion. However, none of these events are particularly earth-shattering. The book, then, kind of just gurgles on pointlessly until it ends. At least, I can be charitable and say it’s a short read: the whole thing takes less than two hours to read in one sitting. Still, I’m not exactly sure what the novel as an entity is trying to prove — other than suggesting that nuclear power is a big, bad, terrible thing that can kill people. Or, at the very least, cause them to go out of their minds.

In the end, Trinity, Trinity, Trinity is baffling. There are some interesting historical lessons sprinkled throughout the book — including the suggestion that German-shipped and Japanese-sanctioned uranium may have been used in the bombs dropped by the Americans on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Still, there’s an awful lot of prattling on how idiotic the pomp behind the Olympics is — and I didn’t have to read a book to be told that! Narratively, this is a novel that paints itself into a corner and uses incest as shock value that doesn’t seem to relate to the rest of the read. Ultimately, Trinity, Trinity, Trinity is a flawed tale — even though it no doubt won a literary award in Japan. It just blunders its way through making its points and does so in the silliest of manners. I mean, are we to really believe that people in their 90s pose a threat to the rest of society somehow? It just feels so clownish. Thus, there are interesting bits and pieces to this book, but it doesn’t hang together as a seamless whole — even though, absurdity aside, it is fairly well written (or, at least, well translated). I think Trinity, Trinity, Trinity is a book that will only appeal to those who find nuclear power to be as fascinating as the author does. Otherwise, it’s doubtful anyone else will truly enjoy this ramshackle look at a topic that doesn’t seem to have a great deal of topicality at the moment (unless Russia does something stupid in the Ukraine). Proceed with caution if you will. There’s not much to see here that’s worth your time.

Erika Kobayashi’s Trinity, Trinity, Trinity will be published by Astra House on June 28, 2022.

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Zachary Houle

Zachary Houle

Book critic by night, technical writer by day. Follow me on Twitter @zachary_houle.