Short story anthologies for a given country or genre tend toward the predictable in their choice of stories, gathering the one or two most well-known from the most well-known authors. This is not the case with The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories. Edited by translator and scholar Jay Rubin (Disclosure: I edited Jay Rubin’s novel, The Sun Gods) and introduced by the best-selling writer Haruki Murakami, both heavyweights in Japanese literature, this collection does include stories from the famous—Natsume, Tanizaki, Mishima, Kawabata, Yoshimoto, and of course, Murakami. However, their stories are not necessarily those found in more traditional anthologies, and many of the stories are from lesser-known writers. In short, the collection has a unique, often edgy, surprising quality.

It is a truism that war is—by its very nature—tragic. For soldiers, it is about killing and being killed. World War II resulted in the deaths of more than 70 million people, a number which tends to overwhelm and obscure the individual lives lost. Sometimes the tragedy of war is easier to comprehend in small doses. That is what Mark Obmascik, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former writer for the Denver Post, has accomplished in this fast-paced tale of the lives of two soldiers—a Japanese surgeon and an American infantryman—whose paths crossed on a desolate island in the northern Pacific.

All lives ultimately end in failure, but Richard Sorge’s shone brightest at twilight. Sorge simultaneously infiltrated the highest levels of Hitler’s and Tokyo’s wartime establishments penetrating both the Nazi Party and the Japanese Court. He warned Stalin of “Operation Barbarossa”—even its very date, 25 June 1941—when Hitler was to abrogate the Nazi-Soviet Pact and send three million troops sweeping across 2900 km of border.