Marvelously nuanced reflections on a nation “in constant motion.”




The accomplished journalist and author, who has lived in Japan for more than 30 years, pursues the elusive Japanese character.

With an elegant, understated manner, Iyer (Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells, 2019, etc.) offers poignant reflections on his adopted country and its maddening contradictions and shifting parts. He moves from the public to the private realms, ambling among themes such as travel, dress, animism, language, role-playing, and playing ball. He often inserts a quote that has nothing to do with Japan but that sizes up the place and sense perfectly—e.g., he cites Oscar Wilde, who “saw the folds within emotions and knew that social life was a theater where the emotions are very real.” Iyer’s subtle observations reveal a great deal about what is beyond the surface of how some Westerners view the Japanese—“as robots,” which the author explains to be “less because the Japan are so machinelike and dependable than because inanimate things in Japan possess so much spirit and life.” Iyer marvels at the “culture of shared obedience” and service; at the country’s astonishing number of vending machines and every imaginable kind of convenience store; and at the company called Family Romance, which employs 1,400 actors “to be family members for clients who are going through hard times.” Being in Japan reminded the author of his time visiting West Point Military Academy: “the courtesy, the sense of order—held up by an unbudging sense of hierarchy—the devotion to tradition,” and also how the cadets “were brought together into a unit…that spoke for a commitment to something larger than themselves.” Iyer also sees the troubling flip side to this “streamlined” and cooperative society, such as its exclusivity and insularity, which keep it “out of step with the larger global community,” especially in its treatment of women, outsiders, and minorities.

Marvelously nuanced reflections on a nation “in constant motion.”

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-49395-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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