THE IDEA OF JAPAN

WESTERN IMAGES, WESTERN MYTHS

An Englishman's intermittently intriguing audit of Western attitudes toward Japan and the Japanese, from the first contacts in the 16th century to the present day. Drawing on his own experiences and on anecdotal evidence culled from the popular as well as fine arts, Littlewood (English/Sussex Univ., England) offers a well-ordered if deadly earnest survey that raises as many questions as it answers. Citing works by a pride of literary lions (Pearl Buck, James Clavell, Ian Fleming, Lafcadio Hearn, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Koestler, Pierre Loti, Eric Lustbader, James A. Michener, Robert Stone, et al.), he documents how the Western world's impressions of Japan have been by turns patronizing and ethnically prejudiced. From the Meiji Restoration through the turn of the 20th century, the author notes, European and North American writers depicted the island nation as a timeless aesthetic wonderland whose doll-like people had a revered emperor, decidedly quaint customs, and a shockingly permissive approach to sexual matters. When Japan bested Russia in a real war, Littlewood observes, the Occident's perceptions of the country's capabilities changed, albeit grudgingly. With the advent of WW II the views of the Allies declined to forthright racism, and today, the author says, Japan has come full circle, being viewed as an economic Yellow Peril. He concludes that there's no telling how long the current version of Japan—as a threatening, regimented nation of suited samurai—may endure in the West. Littlewood makes a good job of recording the cultural stereotypes that have probably precluded closer (or less adversarial) relations. What he fails to do, however, is to probe Japan's consensus- oriented, demonstrably homogeneous, and arguably xenophobic society to determine what residual validity the clichÇs might have. The result is a survey with no more depth or breadth than a reflecting pool.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 1996

ISBN: 1-56663-117-3

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1996

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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