Tag Archives: World War II

Reading: Pacific War Nonfiction Update

7th February 2018

Since my last post detailing my Pacific War Nonfiction reading, I have written full reviews of To Hell and Back by Charles Pellegrino and Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard. I closed out that year with James Bradley’s Flag of Our Fathers. The year 2016 took me much deeper into my Pacific War reading. In 2017, I proposed teaching a study abroad course in Japan and switched my focus to Japanese novels and articles about Japanese literature, though I still have a mile-long list of nonfiction I’m eager to hunt down and read.

If you didn’t read my first post about my venture down the rabbit hole of out-of-print books on the subject, it all began when I watched Unbroken in the theater and realized just how little I knew about the Pacific Theatre in World War II – specifically, what a broad, isolated war it was because of the remoteness and distance between the islands on which the battles were fought. Initially, I searched for books in my local library and read their references. Then I joined a WWII reading group on Goodreads, and those guys had some really great recommendations.

Here’s some of what I’ve read since my previous update:

retribution

Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 by Max Hastings

How I wish I had read this book earlier in my quest for more information on the Pacific War. Though this book focuses on the last year of the battle with Japan, Hastings writes a multi-faceted look at the push to end the war – detailing key figures, battles, and political background. Because of this, readers get quite a lot of information, yet little context for what precedes it.

That isn’t to say, however, that this book is light fare. Hastings covers the Japanese in China, the British in Burma, the American re-entry into the Philippines as well as the impending threat of Russia in Manchuria and the widespread American firebombing of Tokyo, depicting the slow but steady tightening of the screws on Japan.

While not a play by play and casualty list of battles, Retribution is a fascinating, necessary read to pull together the various characters and stages of the Pacific theatre, and I plan to add his Armageddon to my reading list.

atwarwiththewind

At War With the Wind by David Sears

The first 135 pages of this book are essentially a primer on the Pacific War – if you’re new to the subject, that might be helpful. However, even with my relatively limited reading, I was familiar with most, if not all, of the preview. Additionally, unlike other writers who include bits of soldier stories throughout the narrative, Sears includes details about soldiers in such a way that I had difficulty separating one from another.

Once the discussion of kamikaze pilots actually began (on page 136), the book continues to include dates, times, ship type, description of the kamikaze attack, and numbers of dead and wounded. The relay of this voluminous information becomes monotonous, and, at least personally, boring.

I also anticipated a bit more information on the psychological impetus for the kamikaze attacks and Japanese perspective, but the book did not address this.

hirohito

Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix

While I can appreciate the feat of Bix to write such a sweeping biography of the war-time Japanese emperor, this book is a beast. At 832 pages, reading Hirohito is an undertaking, particularly as Bix takes readers back to Hirohito’s childhood, to help shape the image of Hirohito the country develops.

Bix was able to access primary documents of which previous biographers could only dream; however, none of Hirohito’s diaries is public, so reading much of the book was difficult, as I keenly felt the distance between the writer and his subject.

Unlike other readers, I did not feel that the biographer tried to change tack and absolve Hirohito of his responsibility. In fact, after reading of Hirohito’s near addiction to involving himself in his empire’s affairs, I don’t see how anyone could. Reading of his and MacArthur’s relationship and the American interest in keeping Hirohito on the throne only confirmed what I’ve read of the political machinations behind the occupation.

Not for the casual reader, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan was arduous but ultimately necessary for readers of Pacific War nonfiction.


Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dower

John Dower manages, in 676 pages, to make reading about post-World War II Japan gripping in a way few historians can. With photographs, documents, and both American and Japanese newspaper accounts, Dower details the immediate aftermath of the war as well as the six years of American occupation in an eye-opening account of American intervention in post-war Japan.

Japan, in 1945, was a miserable place to be. People were starving. Several of the largest cities were near decimated, and industry, which had been completely turned to producing for the war effort, left in shambles. Many women, left without husbands, turned to prostituting themselves to the occupation troops. Morale was incredibly low, and war crimes were being prosecuted, with military men shunned in the streets.

The question of what to do with Hirohito weighed heavily on MacArthur and the General Headquarters. So many Japanese gave their lives in the name of their emperor, the symbol of Japan. How the Americans transformed Hirohito from one for whom you must fight the white devils to a peaceful symbol of Japanese heritage was quite a feat. The efforts of the Americans to manipulate the Japanese government while simultaneously donning near invisibility in the machinations was both impressive and disturbing.

I’d venture to say that no journey into the Pacific War or post-war Japan is complete without reading Embracing Defeat.

Islands of Destiny: The Solomon Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun by John Prados

Prados introduces Islands of Destiny as a groundbreaking look at the battle he says actually turned the tide of the fight with Japan, the Solomon Islands campaign. For decades, the Battle of Midway was given pride of place as the moment Japan began to wane. Yet Prados points out that the Japanese had the upper hand in terms of strength going into Guadalcanal, and the Solomon Islands were strategic in terms of air support. Prados details each battle, complete with casualty lists, common to these battle histories, but at times the minutiae overwhelmed me.

That said, Prados also focuses heavily on intelligence and its role in the successes and failures of both the Americans and the Japanese and introduced the Australian coast watchers who were instrumental in intelligence gathering. This aspect of the book was fascinating to me, and I plan to seek more information on both the coast watchers and the Sea Bees, also of major strategic importance in the Pacific islands.

Reading: Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard

9th August 2015

nagasaki*I requested this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 In her preface to Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, Susan Southard talks about living in Yokohama in high school as an international student. On a school trip, her class visited Nagasaki, and only there did she realize the lack of knowledge she had about this city’s role in World War II.

As I mentioned in my Pacific War reading post, I felt (and feel) the same way. Southard – and others who write on this topic – discuss that many people do not even realize that there was a second bombing. Hiroshima was the first, and for many, it dominated the news, leaving Nagasaki to suffer quietly.

Strangely, though, Nagasaki was subjected to the more powerful of the two bombs, a plutonium bomb. Just three days after the devastation of Hiroshima, when news of the extent of the destruction had not yet reached Tokyo, the U.S. flew by its original destination because of low visibility and headed to its next target, Nagasaki.

Though some survivors of Hiroshima arrived in Nagasaki and were able to warn family and friends to wear white and lay low, the majority of the city was immune to the air raid sirens, and no siren sounded prior to the bombing. The result was utter decimation of a city, its people, and its culture.

The hibakusha, “bomb-affected people,” survived against all odds. Those not initially killed suffered from flash burns, inhaled glass and other matter, and, what would soon come to be called, Disease X, or radiation disease.

As Pellegrino does, Southard illustrates the mayhem directly following the bombing, but she specifically tracks five hibakusha and their struggle to recover, both physically and mentally.

Japan was already hurting, and citizens of Nagasaki were hungry and malnourished. With little medicine and virtually no support, survivors depended on the doctors and others who worked, some ill themselves, to provide them with whatever care they could. Once Japan surrendered and MacArthur and his troops stepped in, the general’s censorship left the country with little to no knowledge of the effects of the atomic bombings. The spread of misinformation to the rest of the world and America’s unwillingness to treat hibakusha lest such an act look like an apology, further restricted the help available.

The unknown and terrifying effects of radiation disease made hibakusha pariahs, and many refused to leave home because the physical marks of the bombs made them easily identifiable. Later, some hibakusha were unable to obtain jobs and marriages because of their statuses, forcing many to live in silence.

Southard talks about the challenges in telling the stories of Taniguchi, Do-oh Mineko, Nagano Etsuko, Wada Koichi, and Yoshida Katsuji, acknowledging, as she says, “the inherent limitation and unreliability of memory, especially traumatic memory” and counters this through extensive research and fact checking. Photographic evidence and vivid scarring reinforce their stories, and these five travel often, speaking of their experiences and calling for an end to nuclear warfare.

Their remarkable stories and desire to speak globally for peace makes for a sobering, necessary book, yes, especially 70 years after the fact. Southard quotes Yoshida: “At first I hated Americans for what they did to me…I didn’t understand how any nation could use such a cruel weapon on human beings. But in my old age, I have learned that holding a grudge does nobody any good. I no longer hate Americans. I only hate war.”

Regardless of your own (hopefully) conflicted notions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War will certainly further develop a story many of us may have only seen as a mushroom cloud, illuminating those beneath it.

Add this to your Goodreads list.

Kino by Jurgen Fauth

5th April 2012

*I received an egalley of Kino by Jürgen Fauth from NetGalley through the publisher Atticus Books.

“What do you call the power to turn your imagination into reality?”

(Kino, p. 50)

In Kino by Jürgen Fauth, Mina Koblitz, home early from her disastrous wedding and honeymoon, knows three things about her German filmmaker grandfather Kino: his own son cannot stand the thought of him; he made a horrible film; he killed himself. When she finds two cans of celluloid with one of Kino’s lost films outside her New York apartment, Mina calls on a film expert in Berlin, more to determine the monetary value of the film than anything else and hoping to possibly sell it. Instead, she begins to see that Kino was much more than he was made out to be – at the very least, his missing film Tulpendiebe is a sign that Kino once had a promising start. Unfortunately, Mina’s interest in Kino is slight compared to those who want Tulpendiebe for their own purposes.

Kino’s films are special, in part, because they have an odd after-effect. Once Mina sees the first film, she can’t unsee it, and the scenes replay themselves before her – literally. Same camera angle, same incidents, same lighting. Mina’s grandmother talks about this phenomenon because she once saw a man fall to his death amid broken lumber, the same scene having played out in Tulpendiebe: “[H]e called himself a visionary, and that suited him fine. He didn’t understand his power, had no idea how to control it, and he didn’t care. His movies set events in motion…It was extraordinary” (Kino, p. 120).

Presented as a dabbling, irresponsible artist by some and personally describing himself as a “conduit” of the images, Kino created himself in the bars and whorehouses of Berlin before the rise of Hitler and Goebbels. With his friend Steffen by his side, he assumed a new persona each night. Having lost a leg in a childhood accident, Kino finds women, drugs, and friends abound, particularly when Steffen dubs him a movie director. When Kino calls himself, instead, Kino – meaning cinema – it sticks, and as he says, the lies became truth as Kino goes from being an extra in Fritz Lang’s films to directing his own film.

Ultimately, the novel revolves around this idea of lies as truth. Since Mina learns of her grandfather first through her own father, then through Kino’s journal, and lastly through her drug-addled grandmother, the truth of Kino changes. Who he is and why he created what he did changes depending on who is being asked, and as Mina’s grandmother says about the films Kino was forced to make under Goebbels: “A screen doesn’t just show things, it also hides them. There was no truth in Kino’s operettas! They told splendid lies about gaiety and happiness when the reality was death and fear and destruction and oppression” (Kino, 125). But in a sense, those lies became the Germany many wanted to see.

Thwarted from fame in Germany by Goebbels and saddled with an unsupportive wife, Kino cannot fully realize his potential until it is much, much too late. When Kino is finally able to create a film without control after immigrating to America, he goes off the rails, and his friend and producer Marty tells Mina: “He turned it into something we weren’t ready for, using every trick he had learned….Twenty-Twelve contained bits and pieces from earlier stories, scenes pilfered from his other movies, and a strange private mythology. It was reality-warping and prophetic” (Kino, p. 150).

Kino is obsessive, working as a cab driver in LA, writing and rewriting scripts, picturing films in the dozens of red light changes he passes on the Hollywood boulevards, and pitching ideas when and where he can. For Klaus Koblitz, the man known as Kino, is deeply unhappy. As Uma, Mina’s grandmother pointed out about Kino’s operettas, film hides truths as well as telling lies. Kino’s life is much like this, and even at the end of the novel, the reader must parse the facets of Kino’s life to find some semblance of the man.

Funny at times but deeply despairing, Kino is a testament to the visionary but destructive power of genius and how such genius alters the world around us.

Pre-order your copy from Barnes & Noble here.

Reading the old year out…

31st December 2011

And I must say, I’m not at all sad to see the back end of 2011. It was a very tumultuous year, and I am very happy to be ringing in a new year this evening with a mini-readathon cooked up by two other bloggers (Becky and Tasha) and myself. There will be champagne, so in the infinite wisdom and singing voice of Bing Crosby, let’s start the new year right.

But. Before we get to that, I wanted to do a year end post. As of midnight on December 30, I have read 121 books. Of these, 46 were written by men and 75 written by women (wow!); 109 fiction and 12 nonfiction. This year I read 9 audiobooks, and considering I read none last year, that’s quite a jump. Also, just so you can see my habits, 42 of these books came from the publisher/author/publicist, but I bought 52 and checked out 26 from the library, a pretty decent statistic. Now down to brass tacks….

Least favorite books of the year: Let’s just get this one out of the way. I only really disliked two books this year, and if you’ve been around for a bit, you can probably guess the first one: The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The other I just finished this morning: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron. I’ll put up a review next week with details. Suffice it to say, memoirs are tricky.

Best New-to-Me Series: Well, obviously I love the Patricia Wentworth Miss Silver books, but seeing as they were written in the last century, I won’t call them new. If you’re looking for a vintage mystery, give these a go. Also consider joining me for Miss Silver Saturdays through 2012.

Best New Series: I just finished Discovery of Witches and am pretty much in love with it. I can’t wait for the next one. Many compare it to Twilight, but for me, it was much more reminiscent of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I loved it!

Funniest Book: Hands down, Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman. In fact, this is a book that I plan to re-read soon, I liked it that much. Definitely keep an eye out for debut author Matt Norman.

Best Dark Comedy: Funny Man by John Warner. I’m really surprised this book hasn’t gotten more attention, as I think it’s pretty genius in a lot of ways. I’m really eager to see what else Warner writes.

Book that Made Me Think Rainbow Rowell stole my life and wrote about it: Attachments. Runner up for funniest book of the year, it was just so perfectly me. Sadly, many other bloggers have said the same thing, so obviously I ain’t anything special. Distinctive? Pshaw.

Book That Seriously Creeped Me Out and Blew My Mind: The Magus by John Fowles. Review next week, and boy howdy, what a book. Thanks so much to Sean at Read Heavily for the gift.

Best Middle Grade Book: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. Absolute fun and super smart. Reminds me of books written when I was young.

Book that Made Me Cry: Thankfully there were only two of these this year (one sparked this post about crying in reading). The other is A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead. This is nonfiction and about the women of the French Resistance. It’s incredibly moving to see just how much the human spirit can endure.

Most Beautiful Book: The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock. This is physically just a beautiful, beautiful specimen of a book. The cover art, the inside art, the paper. It’s technically the biography of a woman artist, but it’s so much more than that.

Biggest Surprise: Ian Fleming’s Bond series. Yes, he can be a misogynistic, slightly-racist ass, but damn, these books are good. If you think you know Bond from the films, think again and join Lit Housewife’s Shaken Not Stirred challenge. You won’t be disappointed.

~and last but not least~

Best Book of 2011: Galore by Michael Crummey. I read this book in April, but it will not leave me. The story is timeless, the writing superb. If you haven’t read it, make sure you add it to your list for the new year. I compare it to East of Eden by Steinbeck and House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. One of my favorite passages from the book is below:

~Watching Judah emerge from the whale’s guts, King-me felt the widow was birthing everything he despised in the country, laying it out before him like a taunt. Irish nor English, Jerseyman nor bushborn nor savage, not Roman or Episcopalian or apostate, Judah was the wilderness on two legs, mute and unknowable, a blankness that could drown a man.

So that’s my list. I wish you all the best in 2012 and hope to see you back here. Thank you all for reading, commenting, emailing, etc. I so enjoy your company.

And on that note, what was your favorite book this year?

Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer

11th November 2011

*I received this book through Trish at TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Raised by her headstrong mother and near her disapproving but wealthy grandparents, Chess is a product of the time and the land, in an era where land still defined American status and wealth. However, the world is not all peaceful and bucolic in Vivienne Schiffer’s Camp Nine. Pearl Harbor has dragged America into the second World War, and the government buys land in the Arkansas Delta from Chess’s grandfather, Mr. Morton, for an internment camp for Japanese citizens from San Francisco. The community reacts in the ways you’d expect a southern town at that time to react: with fear and thus, prejudice.

Chess’s mother Carolina, raised Italian and considered not good enough by her wealthy in-laws, does not plan to sit idly by while these innocent people sit behind barbed wire at Camp Nine. She flies into the face of southern deportment, visiting the camp often with a former (now-marrried) beau, bringing her daughter along and making friends with the Matsuis. Her attachment alone is enough to bring talk, but her affinity for and defense of the Japanese families in the camp brings the tension to a head, exposing Chess to the ugly side of southern “hospitality.”

One of the aspects of this novel I appreciated the most was Chess’s adult insight. She isn’t judgmental or sentimental but rather looks at her life and the events in it with a curiosity that is both honest and endearing, as though she is questioning it ever happening or more likely, her naïveté. Instead of overcompensating for her hindsight or excusing the actions of her family, Chess sticks to stark observations, remarking about the true nature of the KKK and the ruling class’s opposition:

Its opposition of the Klan was not so much that it felt a noble obligation to protect vulnerable blacks. The Klan threatened its valuable work force, the means through which its wealth was achieved.

This sort of explanation could easily have felt heavy handed, but there were only a few instances toward the end of the novel when Chess meets up with David Matsui after many years that there was any sort of protracted explanation. However, that’s being quite nitpicky because I raced through this novel, enjoying it and – as many a good novel makes me do – turned to Internet research to learn more about the internment of the Japanese and Japanese Americans and both the intense shame these families felt but also their struggles to take back any sort of life after the war. Fascinating and horrifying stuff.

Read this: if you have any interest in World War II, particularly the American experience. Would also make for an excellent book club book.

Check out the rest of the blog tour at TLC Book Tours for more discussion on this book.