Like the best of its kind, Agawa's novel, first published in Japan in 1949, is a clear-eyed, relentlessly honest, and never gung-ho account of what it meant to go to war when one was young--and, at the end, to be defeated. In 1942, when the narrator Koji Obata and his friends from Hiroshima graduate from Tokyo University, Japan appears to be winning. Though the young men are ambivalent about the war--one is even a draft-dodger--they join up and see action. Koji, who wants to be a writer, joins the navy and because of his knowledge of Chinese is assigned to the cryptography section, where he spends the war deciphering the codes used by the Americans and the Chinese Nationalists. In between assignments in Taiwan, Tokyo, and Hankow, China, where he is at the war's end, Koji returns to Hiroshima whenever he can visit his parents, as well as an old high-school teacher, who is against the war, and a young woman, Chieko, who is in love with him. Repatriated to Japan after time as a POW, Koji's initial hope for a new Japan is vitiated by postwar hardships and personal losses. Chieko, his father, and many old friends, including his teacher, have all been killed at Hiroshima. A return visit to Hiroshima on the second anniversary of the bombing, while not an epiphany, does suggest a way of surviving. Lyrical evocations of beloved places and friends alternate with cool passages of reportage on code-breaking, naval battles, and the destruction of Hiroshima--in a book that's at once a personal memoir and a history of a particular time. A notable accomplishment, in the best tradition of writing about war.