A Japanese war veteran’s ordeal as a fugitive from American justice—in an ambitious though curiously uninvolving early (1978) novel by the bestselling author of Shipwrecks (1996) and On Parole (2000).
Takuya Kirohawa, a former officer in Japan’s Imperial Army, is summoned to appear before US Occupation Army officers in Tokyo, shortly after the conclusion of WWII. Having participated in the executions of captured American bomber pilots, Takuya knows what fate awaits him—and goes into hiding, traveling throughout his destroyed country to the homes of one relative or friend after another, before finally finding a compassionate host family who (without knowing either his true identity or his circumstances) find him work as a laborer in a rebuilt match factory. Yoshimura writes feelingly of Takuya’s understandable bitterness: he had (under strict orders) beheaded a single enemy soldier, while US pilots had wreaked unprecedented havoc on nonmilitary targets, climaxing with the decisive bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Unfortunately, this personal dimension is swallowed up in thinly dramatized summaries of historical fact—presented both as Takuya’s detailed memories and as information he gleans, piecemeal, from newspaper stories. The result is that the novel’s focus on Takuya’s embattled mind and heart is continually distracted, and the reader’s identification with this otherwise quite fully realized character waxes and wanes erratically. Nevertheless, Yoshimura’s depiction of postwar Japan as a hollowed-out landscape marked by poverty, famine, despair, and passive “fraternization” with unrepentant conqueror Americans, has real power. And the closing pages, which focus on Takuya’s capture, nine-year-imprisonment, and unexpected release (in 1957), rise to a level of very nearly tragic irony—and also, incidentally, sow the seeds of Yoshimura’s superb On Parole (2000).
A qualified success, at best. But there’s no doubt that Yoshimura is a very considerable talent. One looks forward to seeing more of his scrupulous, intense fiction in English translation.