Westerners have long complained about the enigmas of Japanese culture. Now comes proof that the puzzlement cuts both ways. Noted Japanologist Keene (On Familiar Terms, 1993, etc.) here interprets 30 Japanese diaries dating from 1860 to 1920, around the time of the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when for the first time in over two centuries the West affected Japanese society on a large scale. At that time, he writes, ``it was as natural for those people to keep diaries as it is for Japanese today to take group photographs as souvenirs of an occasion,'' and from these rich accounts Keene shows that Japanese attitudes toward Western culture ranged from intense curiosity and excitement to complete disdain. Some early travelers found foreign lands to be utterly perplexing, even inscrutable. Complaining of his English hosts' constant attempts to convert him to Christianity, Natsume Sseki writes: ``I wonder who could have invented such a straitlaced society.'' (Keene notes that the Japanese who were most successful abroad were those who had already converted or who did so later.) Provincial governor Muragaki Norimasa, traveling aboard the American warship Powhattan on a goodwill tour of the United States, confesses his hatred for sea chanties and is appalled at the sight of plebeian-looking President James Buchanan: ``He wears no decoration whatsoever...not even a sword.'' Other Japanese found that they hardly recognized their own country after the Meiji Restoration. Keene excavates the plaintive diary of a bedridden young man named Masaoka Shiki, who yearns to see wonderful things that he has only read about in the newspapers: ``lions and ostriches in the zoo'' and ``automatic telephones and red postboxes.'' The diary of Higuchi Ichiy, a learned woman, reveals sadness that in the face of such changes, the women of the upper class still expect her ``to pretend to rejoice over things that do not please me.'' These are the luminous details—not curiosities, thanks to Keene's careful analysis, but real finds—of which the best histories are made.

Pub Date: March 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-8050-2055-1

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1995

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.


Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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The sub-title of this book is "Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools." But one finds in it little about education, and less about the teaching of English. Nor is this volume a defense of the Christian faith similar to other books from the pen of C. S. Lewis. The three lectures comprising the book are rather rambling talks about life and literature and philosophy. Those who have come to expect from Lewis penetrating satire and a subtle sense of humor, used to buttress a real Christian faith, will be disappointed.

Pub Date: April 8, 1947

ISBN: 1609421477

Page Count: -

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1947

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