A good part of my readings of May have been about WW2, mainly because my 20th Century Reading Challenge has brought me to the 1940s this month. I only read one winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, so that is a bit of a disappointment, but I am keeping up with all the challenges!
20th Century reading challenge
Read a book set in each decade of the 20th Century in chronological order (publication date does not matter).
I chose to read about the Pacific War, mainly because this is an area that I am less familiar with than the war in Europe. When I read about WW1 in February, I chose to read a German and a French book together, and I loved the experience, so I decided to do the same for the Pacific War, choosing a Japanese and an American book.
“They died gloriously on the field of honor for the emperor”, is what their families would be told. In reality, their lives were wasted on a muddy, stinking slope for no good reason.With the Old Breed, Eugene Sledge
『野火』by Shohei Ooka (大岡昇平) | With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge
As I feared, 『野火』was very difficult to read for me, and unfortunately, I was not able to finish it. I read it very slowly and made it to about half of the novel.
The novel is really a big surprise to me. I was expecting Shohei Ooka to describe the training, the combats, the harsh conditions of living, the comradeship between the soldiers… but our protagonist, Tamura, is completely and utterly alone. This makes for long description of the nature around him and thoughts about life and death which were hard to read in Japanese.
With the Old Breed was an incredible read, it is both very detailed and easy to follow for someone who is not familiar with military tactics and jargon. Eugene Sledge describes how the prolonged shelling, the stress and the conditions in which they were fighting (the rain, the mud, the stench of dead bodies…) affected the men and pushed them to the boundaries of sanity. But something remains unshaken until the end: the comradeship between them. Sledge talks of “loyalty”, ”devotion” and ”love” and ends his memoir saying ”That esprit de corps sustained us”.
It is that ”esprit de corps” that is lacking to Tamura. Rejected by his company because of his illness but not admitted to the hospital either, Tamura is alone. Harassed by the constant shelling, Eugene Sledge made a promise to himself: he might die, but he will not loose his sanity. Tamura is not under enemy fire, he is not fighting, but his mind starts to break. The two books are like a reversed image of each other.
I will try to find the English translation of 『野火』and read in parallel to finish it.
Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown
I did not read Facing the Mountain as part of my 20th Century Reading Challenge, but as it was also about WW2, I will include it here.
Facing the Mountain will certainly be the most important book I have read this year. Daniel James Brown gives a fantastic account of how the attack on Pearl Harbor affected Japanese-American families living in the US, mainland and Hawaii. I feel ashamed because I never really thought about it before, and even if I had, I would never have been able to imagine the extent of the discrimination and the injustice they suffered. I also didn’t know about the 442nd Battalion who fought in Europe.
The book is fantastic, so well written and based on so much research. I listened to the audiobook version read by Louis Ozawa, and it was so intense, I could not put it down.
Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project
Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).
I only read just one book this month, but it was such a good one!
『夜の終る時』by Shoji Yuki (結城昌治)
This book is a 警察小説 or police procedural, and this might be one of my favourite sub-genre when it comes to detective fiction. Shoji Yuki describes in a very realistic manner the work of the police, the problems that arise internally, and the conditions in which the detectives work (long working hours, low pay). We learn about the hierarchy and how much easier it is to achieve a higher rank through education than through internal promotion, which leaves some veterans bitter. Another interesting fact, was the difference between the older generation of policemen who are entirely dedicated to their work but whose methods are not always ethical, and the younger generation who is not ready to give up their personal life and hobbies for their job.
The different short stories emphasise a lot the relation between police and yakuza, how they inevitably come to work together, and how it can also lead to corruption or difficult choices.
The first story, 夜の終る, which is more a novella than a short story, was by far the most impactful and engrossing. The other stories, much shorter, felt a bit repetitive after a while, but they were all equally good.
Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.
The prompt for May was ”a translated book” so I chose to read a Japanese book I had on my reading list for a while.
여섯명의 거짓말쟁이 대학생 (六人の嘘つきな大学生) by Akinari Asakura (浅倉秋成), translated by Sohyeon Nam (남소현)
I did not really like this book, but I think that it was not a book for me in the first place. I might have let myself be influenced by all the hype around it. The cover is awesome, the setting interesting, and after all, it is a mystery.
But in terms of mystery, this one was rather a light one. I did not find the premise on which the mystery is based to be very exciting, but the problem is that the whole novel revolves around it. Of course, there are numerous twists and we get to see things from different angles, but there are not really new elements or new events added to the first mystery.
I also found that the book tended to explain things that were obvious, which was a bit annoying. The first part, which might be the most interesting one, felt very frustrating to me, because, from my point of view, the characters’ actions and decisions were all wrong. The second part was a bit weaker in my opinion, again, certainly because the novel keeps on exhausting the same premise without adding enough new elements. Finally, I really did not like the end, not that it is bad, but it showed that this is not the kind of book that I enjoy reading.
There are numerous other little things that I did not like, but I don’t think that it is worth pointing them out. The book was simply not for me. If you like a lighter mystery (no murder, nothing really bad happening), you will certainly find this book great. It has numerous twists, characters that you are bound to grow attached to as the novel progresses, some good moments of deduction, interesting reflections on the absurd competitive marathon students must go through to find a job, and even a heart warming touch here and there.