Nuanced reporting on a tradition-bound society struggling to find its way in the 21st century.




An incisive, well-written account of Japan’s recent social and economic malaise, including a frightening portrait of the nation’s hikikomori: disaffected youths who lock themselves in their rooms for months or years at a time as a way of coping with life in a society that denies them self-expression.

Visiting scholar at Berkeley’s Institute of East Asian Studies, Zielenziger was puzzled by Japan’s seeming inability to recover from its economic slump when he began his seven-year stint as Tokyo bureau chief for Knight Ridder in 1996. Then he met some of the more than one million socially withdrawn hikikomori. Mainly men, often bright and creative, they include Kenji, 34, who reads, watches TV, daydreams and rarely leaves his room in his mother’s tiny apartment; and anxious, angry Jun, 28, who barricades himself from his parents, sleeps late into the afternoon and bikes frantically through downtown streets after dark. Unlike western youths who still live at home or act antisocially, Japan’s disenchanted suffer from a “social disorder” unique to a nation in spiritual crisis, declares the author. Drawing on interviews with young people, parents and psychiatrists, Zielenziger finds in these frustrated young people a way of understanding a change-resistant nation in which “obedience and group harmony,” though they served Japan well in the past, are now stifling the creativity and innovation needed to regain a place in the complex global economy. He goes on to describe other behaviors, from increases in binge-drinking and group suicides to the refusal of many young women to marry and have children, that he says also reflect the nation’s inability to imagine a future. “Japanese today do not know who they are,” one writer tells Zielenziger. “If asked to identify themselves, they can only give a job title or company name.” The country would rather withdraw than transform itself, he concludes.

Nuanced reporting on a tradition-bound society struggling to find its way in the 21st century.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-51303-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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