On a trip many years ago to New Delhi, I was struck by an official memorial to Subhas Chandra Bose, the wartime leader of the Indian National Army, the Japan-affiliated force of Indians who fought against the British during the Second World War. India, of course, has a more complex view of the fight against Japan than other countries involved in the War—with these soldiers being contentious, debated and, at times, celebrated.
We are often told that the trend toward globalization is unstoppable, but then some event occurs—whether it is the war in Ukraine or Brexit—that reminds us of the power of nationalism; the emotional attachment that citizens have to their land and people. That power, that emotional attachment, jumps off every page of The War Diary of Asha-san, written by a young Indian nationalist in the midst of the Second World War.
In the years leading up to the Second World War, the U.S. was represented in Japan by Ambassador Joseph Grew: born from a patrician family, Harvard-educated, ran away to the foreign service, and deeply respected by his fellow diplomats and Japanese politicians alike.
When Vijay Balan was a young boy, his father would regale him with stories inspired by family history. One of these centered around Balan’s grand-uncle, a police officer in 1920s and early 1930s India who later went on to Singapore and became a spy for the Japanese military during World War II. Balan has turned this tale into his first novel, The Swaraj Spy. The title refers to the Hindustani word for self-rule, and it’s this wish that drives the main character, Kumaran “Kumar” Nair. The book is less a mass market spy thriller and more of a character-driven story of a man who hopes to do right by his family and country.
In a museum in Mumbai, a chance viewing of a photograph of a Punjabi princess inspires Italian author and journalist, Livia Manera Sambuy, to investigate the rani’s life which, unexpectedly, becomes a journey of self-discovery too.
Steve Kemper’s Our Man in Tokyo is the second book in three years to deliver fulsome praise on the untiring yet unsuccessful effort by Joseph Grew, the US Ambassador to Japan in the 1930s and early 1940s, to avoid a war between the US and Japan. Like Lew Paper’s 2019 In the Cauldron, Kemper’s book depicts Grew as an unheralded diplomatist trying to avoid armageddon, while portraying policymakers in Tokyo and Washington as stubbornly blundering into war.
In early 1992, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew gave a public statement about the dark years of World War 2, namely that Korean comfort women kept Singapore women from suffering the same sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese military. This one statement, as Nanyang Technological University professor Kevin Blackburn writes in his new book, The Comfort Women of Singapore in History and Memory, was not only inaccurate but further cemented an unwelcoming environment for former Singapore comfort women to break their silence about the trauma they experienced during WW2.