Sunday Salon: more from the Far East.
This is bad, I know, but this week the postman has, on several occasions, delighted me with the sound of a plump book-filled jiffy bag landing on my door mat. This is despite the already colossal book city in my study, my pathetically slow rate of reading and, most of all, the condemnation of my son, Hodmandod Minor (he of the ironing pile, mentioned last week).
My most recent acquisitions are a further two volumes to add to my already unstable TBR China pile:
Monkey by Wu Ch'êng-ên (a masterpiece written in the 1500s, some time before Shakespeare), and Factory Girls by Leslie T Chang (about migrant workers in modern China, which Simon Winchester says is 'Head and Shoulders above almost all other new books about China'). This is in addition to the many books I have already read about China, including the excellent book on Pandas by Henry Nicholls which I read this week (review here with lots of panda photos).
Furthermore, and I have already mentioned these in previous posts, I have acquired three more books for the Japanese collection:
Palm of the Hand Stories by the wonderful Yasunari Kawabata (tiny short stories written throughout his life), The Girl Who Leapt Through Time by Yasutaka Tsutsui (which is a best seller in Japan, and courtesy of Alma Books) and finally Kamikazi Diaries by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierny ( a study on the mind-set of the young students who flew in the Kamikazi planes in the second world war). This last one arrived not through the post but through wires and then, at the end, through space. As I write this, it strikes me, once again, how incredible this is - an entire book landing in a few seconds in my hand, almost as soon as it came into my head to wish for it.
It is this last book that I am reading now, and can't wait to get on with it. The pilots were in their early twenties and highly educated. They spoke French, German and English and were well-acquainted with European philosophy. They were the best that Japan had to offer, and yet they were drafted into the armed forces, then forced by peer-pressure to join the defence pilots.
As the author reveals it there was no way they could not 'volunteer' to become kamikaze pilots. They knew their life would be short and they tried to rationalize this in their letters and diaries. They loved Japan, but some of them didn't love what their nation was becoming. They knew they were expected to die for their emperor, and yet they wanted to live. One of the author's main points is that they should not be thought comparable to today's suicide bombers, but to the British soldiers that were forced out of the trenches into a rain of machine gun fire in the first world war. Both were fighting for their state and their emperor, and both had no real choice. Refuse and you would be shot and your family would suffer the ignominy of your cowardice. Run or fly to almost certain death and at least your family would remember you proudly. Both sought solace in writing and reading poetry.