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Having developed quite a liking for Japanese fiction recently, I picked this one up simply because it was written by a Japanese author. Once at home, I was slightly disappointed to find that it is about the aftermath of the Second World War, a subject that I find painful and prefer not to think about when reading fiction. I would probably have put it aside, but there was something in the introduction that caught my attention and so I decided to give it a go. It was not a particularly easy read and there was a time when I nearly gave up on it; however, on the whole, it was a thought-provoking read.
As a University graduate, Takuya held a position of some responsibility in the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War. Distressed at the devastation and loss of life caused by US raids on Japanese cities, he finds it hard to feel much sympathy for the US airmen captured by his unit. When the order for their death is given, he becomes directly involved.
Once the war is over, a dejected Takuya returns to his native village. He is horrified when a former wartime colleague contacts him to let him know that he is likely to be accused of being a war criminal and that he must go into hiding to avoid capture. Living on his wits and relying on the confusion that the war has wrought upon Japan, he moves from place to place, in constant fear of being caught. At the same time, he reads in the press about the capture of his superiors and their placing of blame on their subordinates. Will he be able to escape capture? If not, will his life ever return to normal?
This was not a pleasant read, but it was moving. It really brought home some issues that are relevant to todays society; mainly the whole issue of when a death is allowed in the name of war and when it becomes a crime, but also the issue of ex-soldiers coping with the fall-out of war in a society that would rather forget their existence. Looking at it from the point of view of the Japanese, who of course lost the War, made it all the more poignant and made me wonder that if we had lost the Second World War, whether we would have been so eager to go back to war. This isnt the place to comment on the futility of war, but this book certainly made me think about it.
The author clearly has a great deal of expertise in military equipment and history, which made the book seem very realistic, but did also alter the flow of the story quite a lot. Chapter 3 of the book concentrated mainly on the military campaigns of the War and the B-29s that were captured from the Americans. I found this a little off-putting and frankly very dull. It read like a history book and was in complete contrast to the rest of the book. In contrast, there are a number of descriptions of the devastation suffered by Japan in the course of the war; this is done very movingly.
Apart from that, the story itself was very good. It unfolded slowly; initially we know that Takuya took part in some event that was later described as a war crime, but it is not clear how or to what extent he was involved. The pace at which information is released is very well sustained.
The characterisation was fair. Takuyas fear and confusion at the duplicity of his superiors is well described. Having said that, I felt that his character lacked depth it felt as if the author was describing somebody very distant. It is hard to explain, but it was almost as if he was projecting his own feelings on to Takuya without thinking about how Takuya himself would react. As a result, I was moved by the story itself, the pointlessness of war and the effect that it has on ordinary people, but not so much by Takuyas own predicament.
I had no problems at all with the translation. There are times when the amount of Japanese proper nouns became a bit too much, but luckily they were fleeting and I quickly became accustomed.
In conclusion, I cant say that I really enjoyed this book. It was too reminiscent of the world today and the fact that we are still making the same mistakes 60 years after the Second World War is deeply depressing. However, it was very thought provoking and I think it is always important to read the other sides view at the end of the day, war affects everyday people no matter what your political views. Recommended, but you need to be in the right frame of mind.
The book is available from play.com for £5.99. Published by Cannongate Books, it has 217 pages. ISBN: 1841954799
Japan is in ruins and occupied by the Americans. Hiroshima and Nagaskai have been destroyed. Takuya, an ex-officer in the Imperial Army, has returned to his native village only to learn that the Occupation authorities are intensifying their efforts to apprehend suspected war criminals. And those who are found guilty are being sentenced to death. Fearing that his involvement in the execution of a number of American pilots will be discovered, Takuya takes to the road and becomes a fugitive in his own country. One Man's Justice is a tale of timeless relevance that brings to mind two other classic anti-war novels - Bao Ninh's The Sorrow of War and Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front.