Endō Shūsaku has the rare distinction of having one of his novels, Silence, adapted for the silver screen by none other than Martin Scorsese. Those who aren’t familiar with his opus may be surprised to find that Endō wrote from the perspective of a Roman Catholic. Sachiko, originally published in 1982 and only just now appearing in English translation, fits squarely into this tradition.
Some years back, graphic novelist Keum Suk Gendry-Kim interviewed an elderly Korean woman named Lee Ok-sun. Gendry-Kim hoped to learn about social class and gender disparity during World War II and write a book about this subject. But after several interviews, Gendry-Kim realized Lee’s personal story warranted a book of its own. The result is Grass, a graphic novel now out in an English translation by Janet Hong.
This year’s 75th anniversary of the end of WW2 and, in particular, the end of the War in the Pacific, has coincided with a number of books, some broad, some focusing on individuals. But few perhaps look at what is—at first glance—as unlikely a corner as Kelly A Hammond’s China’s Muslims & Japan’s Empire.
When Australian Hugh Rand sailed to New Guinea in 1943 to serve as a coast watcher for the Allied Forces, he knew he would be killed. Rand’s job was to alert the Allies of Japanese activity on the island. He befriended local villagers, but never knew whom he could trust. And as predicted, he was beheaded by the Japanese not long after he arrived. In Death of Coast Watcher by Anthony English, Hugh Rand went on to terrorize generations after him.
Last Mission to Tokyo is the story of the 1946 war crimes trial of four Japanese men for the torture and death of three American airmen who bombed Japan in the famous and daring Doolittle Raid four months after Pearl Harbor. It is told from the perspective of a US Department of Defense criminal defense lawyer who has defended accused terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and who has been publicly critical of the work of US Military Commissions in the so-called “War on Terror”.
A Korean nonagenarian learns on the news that the last remaining “comfort woman” is on her deathbed. The narrator, unnamed until the end of the book, is determined to meet this last victim: she wants to know if she knew the woman from 70 years earlier. She also wants to assure her that she’s not in fact the last one left. The narrator has never told anyone about her past—not even her siblings and their children; it’s finally a chance to talk about it.
Seventy-five years ago, Japan formally surrendered to the Allied powers in a ceremony aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, thereby ending the Second World War. War brings out the best and worst aspects of human nature—it produces remarkable heroes and cruel villains.