Saito Mutsuo (b. 1923) finds it difficult even now to realize that the story of the Three Bomb Heroes of Shanghai, which he re-enacted as an eight-year-old in Kyoto, may have been Japanese Army propaganda; at war's end he was a resigned kamikaze-pilot ""volunteer."" Tsutumi Ayako (b. 1928) was devastated, as an ultra-patriotic Japanese schoolgirl in colonial Korea, by her repeated rejection for the nurses' corps; a successful classmate told her, in the war's final days, that she'd been fortunate. Iida Momo (b. 1926) grew up the bright, apolitical son of an opportunist-businessmen; at elite, unruly Tokyo No. 1 High School, the door to preeminent Tokyo University, he became a Marxist; when he successfully feigned TB to escape conscription, he and his father gleefully pulled long faces together. . . Morris-Suzuki, who teaches at the University of New England, in Australia, has selected three real, disparate Japanese of the ""Showa generation"" (born near the beginning of the present emperor's reign) to illustrate both the common pattern of such lives--progress through the school system, under increasing militarism; wartime labor service, with impending conscription for the boys; postwar deprivation, the reversal-of-values, the ensuing prosperity--and, foremost, ""the ways in which three different individuals have come to terms with the shared experience."" The author doesn't claim that her three figures are representative; she does, by dextrously amplifying their stories, present a coherent, multi-faceted, consistently engrossing picture of Japan's past 50 years. (This is superior, resonant writing wedded to academically sound historical analysis.) In the postwar period, we hear of potato-leaf stew and advent of television; of yearning for security (Mutsuo candidly sought out the big company that paid the best salaries) and ""eagerness for new knowledge and new experiences"" (Ayako rebelled against domestic bonds, became a sidewalk portrait artist and then a potter). The better life, universally acknowledged, raises questions: Momo, a bulwark of the Communist Workers' Party, reflects on the divergent paths of his Tokyo University contemporaries Mishima Yukio, the romantic nationalist writer-suicide, and terrorist-members of the Japanese Red Army. Unpretentious and exceptional.