Now in her 10th decade, it would be understandable if Jan Morris could no longer cope with the amount of research she once so enjoyed. But she has not abandoned her craft. In her most recent work she has undertaken to memorialize the sinking of the Japanese battleship Yamato, a subject which she says has fascinated her since childhood.
A Village With My Name sounds unpromising as a title. Could this be one of those “finding my roots” tales of little interest to anyone beyond the author himself? It could have been, but happily Scott Tong uses the family tree that he uncovers to relate a worm’s-eye view of 20th century Chinese history.
The tsunami in question is of course the one generated by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake—the one which destroyed 650km of Japan’s coastline, killed about 18,500 and swamped the Fukushima power station. It was a disaster by any standard. But Parry has a rather different take. He emphasizes how well-prepared Japan was, and he certainly makes a convincing case that the death and destruction would have been much worse in any other nation.
Scientists don’t write autobiographies. That’s strange, really, because in most cases they’re obliged to record everything they do in some sort of laboratory notebook for either patent or publication purposes. Here, though, we have an exception. In Confessions of a Hong Kong Naturalist, Graham Reels recounts 12 years of wading watercourses, slogging through swamps and beating about in the bushes of Hong Kong.
They say that armchair generals discuss tactics but real generals discuss logistics. So here’s something different. Dawn of Victory is an account of World War I focused entirely on logistics. Jim Maultsaid enlisted at the outbreak of the war in 1914 and was immediately sent to the front where he was badly wounded on the first day of the Somme offensive. He survived, but was permanently disabled. Rather than being demobilized, he was packed off to officer candidate school and then sent back to France as a Lieutenant in charge of one platoon of the 96,000 Chinese labourers recruited to help with the war effort. His were from Shandong. Dawn of Victory is the story of the platoon’s day-to-day struggle to keep the frontline troops supplied with food, ammunition and fuel.
Tony Banham has produced a very clear and detailed account of the civilian evacuations from Hong Kong in July of 1940. His extensive detail makes it clear that the evacuation’s potentially complicated logistics in fact went off much more smoothly than might have been expected. Less than half of Hong Kong’s British population was evacuated, and the officials and the general public in Manila and Australia were extremely welcoming, resettling the refugees quickly. Nevertheless, the entire operation generated persistent complaints right up to the eventual Japanese invasion.
MacArthur hardly appears. The spies were rank amateurs. But once you get past the misleading title, MacArthur’s Spies is a well-written piece of work with a lot to say about life in occupied Manila during World War II.