水曜日, 12月 01, 2004

Recent Reading

    This week, I read two books in English that were each, in very different ways, impossible to put down. The first was Iris Chang's nonfiction bestseller, The Rape of Nanking. The second was Drop City, my first exposure to American novelist T. Coraghessan Boyle.
    The subject matter of The Rape of Nanking is shocking enough, and I think everyone should read it--but more shocking by far is the denial that the massacre ever happened, which persists in right-wing rhetoric to this day. Note, for instance, that The Rape of Nanking has NOT been published in Japanese translation, but a rebuttal of it has--titled ザ・レイプ・オブ・南京』の研究―中国における「情報戦」の手口と戦略, (Researching "The Rape of Nanking" --Strategies in the Information War of China.) When I saw that on Amazon.co.jp, and all the reader comments denouncing The Rape of Nanking as Japan-bashing Chinese propaganda, my blood turned to ice. Maybe there is an error or two in the book, but the massacre happened--no doubt about that--and it was more horrible, cruel and and unnecessary than the one or two lines Japanese Ministry of Education textbooks give the topic now that they have been pressured into mentioning it at all.
   It is illegal in Germany to say that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz, but it's not illegal in Japan to make similar claims regarding the Nanking Massacre. According to Chang, "even the Nazis were shocked" by the cruelty of the massacre, and one Nazi in Nanking, John Rabe, emerges as an unlikely hero in her tale, one of a handful of foreigners who stayed in Nanjing saving the lives of thousands of Chinese in the International Safety Zone. But you can see people denying the existence of the massacre just by going on Amazon Japan, which I never previously considered to be a bastion of right-wing nutcases.
   Even manga are affected by the politics of history. See this article in the Japan Times about the manga "Kuni ga Moeru," which was cancelled for portraying the Nanking Massacre "as if it really happened." To me it doesn't matter so much exactly how many people died--a number hotly contested by Japanese sources--but rather, the cruel manner in which they died. I don't blame present-day Japanese people for the atrocity--it's not their fault, any more than I'm personally responsible for killing Native Americans and taking their land--but I would have serious misgivings about anyone who rushed to defend the actions of the soliders.
    I went to the Japanese Wikipedia, and found that the "Nanking Massacre" page is being "protected" from further editing due to a re-editing battle. The English-language Wikipedia shows no signs of such a battle. This is an indication of the information gap that still exists between English and Japanese.
   A sad postcript on this already horrible story is that the author Iris Chang committed suicide this month. This story just gets worse and worse the more you learn about it, but I do know that not all Japanese are denying the massacre; many of them go so far as to personally apologize when they go abroad to other parts of Asia. The problem is simply that this issue has become politically charged and the record hasn't been set straight yet. Every time Koizumi goes to Yasukuni Shrine, where the war criminals are enshrined, there is a new outcry from the victims' families.

    OK, that was interesting but bad, so now on to my next book, which I finished reading this morning although I never wanted it to end. Drop City is the sweeping epic of a California hippie commune, circa 1970, that, for reasons that will only make sense if you read it, relocates to the remote interior of Alaska. My expectations were low when I picked this book out from a bin for 300 yen in a used bookstore. I expected choppy writing, sensationalism, infighting, violence, but what I got instead was a delicious treat of good writing that made me feel calm and comfortably blissed out every time I picked it up. I still don't know why the book made me feel that good. I don't have much in common with any of the 5 main characters. None of them are remarkable or heroic people. If you knew them in real life, you wouldn't notice anything special about them. You probably wouldn't even like them. But somehow, even when they're being bad, the characters' perceptions are familiar, comfortable, irresistably human, portrayed in a sympathetically golden, mellow light. I couldn't get enough of it.
    My one complaint was that the book wound up endorsing monogamy over free love. The prosaic, conventional values won out, in some ways, against the crazy tapestry of the collective community. However, this reflects history. I loved the collision of cultures between the hippies and the trappers in Alaska, more subtle and human than you would think, each population influencing the other.


  • At 4:08 午後, Blogger Matt said…

    Not much to say about Chang's book that you already didn't, but yeah, Drop City is awesome. I'll tell you why it made you feel that good: because T. Coraghessan Boyle is one of the best writers currently working in English. Well, at least I think so. My favourite book of his is "Riven Rock".

  • At 12:36 午後, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    I love Drop City! I want to read all of his books now. Especially Riven Rock, The Road to Wellville, and Water Music. Do you know anywhere I can get them without paying Amazon prices?
    I'm working on a trivia quiz on Drop City to post on funtrivia.com. Unfortunately, they have a new rule there where you have to take 100 quizzes before you can write one. I've only done about 52. So I'll post my quiz as soon as i can find time to take 48 more trivia quizzes.

  • At 8:59 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    {Do you know anywhere I can get them without paying Amazon prices? }

    Don't answer that, because I've already ordered them from Amazon, after searching unsuccessfully at every bookstore with foreign books from here to Kyoto. I'm impatient to read them, and make some more funtrivia quizzes, but it doesn't look like they'll come before I go to Taiwan. I probably won't be able to read them until early January. :-(



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