Sunday, 12 April 2009

The China Lover (cont.)

I began reading Ian Buruma's The China Lover "cold", so to speak, knowing about it only what I'd read in the review in the local newspaper which spurred me to buy the book (the contents of which I've almost completely forgotten anyway) and in the blurb on the back. I'd deliberately avoided reading the Wikipedia article on the book's central character, Yamaguchi Yoshiko, as well as other reviews of the book online lest they reveal too much of the plot.

I soon discovered, however, that the blurb is quite misleading. "When Sidney Vanoven is sent to occupied Japan, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, it is his dream posting," it begins. "By day, he works in the censor's office watching Japanese films; at night he immerses himself in the sensual pleasures of Tokyo. His job leads him into the circle of film star Shirley Yamaguchi, a strong and passionate woman, whose wartime past hints at deception and betrayal."

Imagine my surprise, then, on beginning the novel only to discover that we were not in post-Second World War Japan but in pre-Second World War Manchuria, and that the narrator was not Sidney Vanoven, but a Japanese national by the name of Sato Daisuke. Any feelings of disorientation soon disappeared, however, as I became caught up in the plot and captivated by the characters. Yesterday, however, curiosity got the better of me and had a peek at some of the reviews of The China Lover at Amazon.

What I now know is that The China Lover consists of three parts, each of which is narrated by a different character. At least two of these characters are based on real people. The Sidney Vanoven of the blurb, who narrates part two, is obviously based on famous Japanophile and movie critic Donald Richie (both are gay and both are from small town Ohio). The narrator of part three (which is set in contemporary times) is apparently based on Kozo Okamoto, a member of the Japanese Red Army.

Curiously, the Publishers Weekly review of The China Lover at Amazon describes part one as being narrated by Vanoven, and part two by Sato. So perhaps this was the original order of the parts. If so, it would explain the misleading blurb.

Anyway, I've just started part two. The conclusion to part one was extremely satisfying from a personal point of view, featuring as it did the suicide of Amakasu Masahiko, one of those responsible for the murder of Osugi Sakae and Ito Noe. Interestingly, though, while in reality Amakasu took his own life by ingesting potassium cyanide, in Buruma's novel he shoots himself, the same method depicted in the movie The Last Emperor, the recently-released Blu-ray disc version of which features an interview with - wait for it - Ian Buruma!

Distance walked today: 7.7km
Total distance walked since Tokaido training began: 161.3km
Days left until departure: 35

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