IN THE REALM OF A DYING EMPEROR by Norma Field

IN THE REALM OF A DYING EMPEROR

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A provocative, multileveled ``meditation'' on Emperor Hirohito's 1989 death, raising dark questions about Japan's war guilt in the context of its triumphant prosperity today. As the child of a Japanese woman and an American soldier, Field (East Asian Studies/Univ. of Chicago) tells a story of postwar Japan inextricably linked to her own. She grew up in Tokyo, in her grandmother's house, ``finally'' leaving after high school to join her father in the US. In August 1988, Field returned to Tokyo for a yearlong stay. From her grandmother's oleander-filled, walled garden, she observed a driven, repressive ``democracy'' held in a deathwatch for its emperor. This ``frail embodiment of the war,'' whose funeral becomes a ``celebration of the successes of Japanese capitalism,'' Field sees as both promoter and symbol of Japan's ``national amnesia.'' The economic miracle has come at astronomical cost: ``In the society [the Japanese] are growing into,'' she writes, ``the most significant and only reliable freedom is the freedom to buy ever more refined commodities.'' Backing into her powerful points as she shifts between personal and global issues, Field structures her narrative around the stories of three ``resisters'': a supermarket owner who burns the ``Rising Sun'' flag; a widow who sues to stop the state from making her late husband a Shinto deity; and the mayor of Nagasaki, who publicly calls the emperor responsible for the war--for the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for the Battle of Okinawa. The horror the Japanese refuse to remember is here most powerfully conveyed by eyewitness accounts of ``babies' cries...stilled'' by Japanese troops hiding from the ``bloodless'' American invasion. An intelligent, informed, deeply felt interrogation of Japan that offers a rare insider-outsider point of view while implicitly questioning America's influence on this rich but troubled country.*justify no*

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-679-40504-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1991