Friday, 10 April 2009

The China Lover

I finished reading William Boyd's The Blue Afternoon on Monday, the day I had my nose surgery. In fact, I read the last dozen or so pages while sitting in the waiting room of the Ear, Nose and Throat Outpatients Department (Otolaryngology) at Christchurch Hospital. It probably wasn't the best choice of reading material, given that much of the story is set in a hospital in Manila at the dawn of the 20th century, and that Boyd seemed to find great pleasure in describing some of the less sanitary medical practices in vogue at the time. Thankfully none of these were mentioned in the final pages, otherwise I would have been even more nervous than I already was.

I've now started reading The China Lover by Ian Buruma, which is one of the books I bought in Wellington when I was up there for the jazz festival. I often find it difficult switching between novels by different authors, but this hasn’t been the case this time. Perhaps it's because Buruma's writing style is quite "neutral", for want of a better word, especially compared to the more flambouyant style of Boyd. Which is not to say that I'm not enjoying The China Lover. Quite the contrary. The characters, setting, and narrative are all fascinating, and more than make up for the rather mundane prose.

Based on the life of Japanese film star Yamaguchi Yoshiko (a.k.a. Otaka Yoshiko, Ri Koran, Shirley Yamaguchi), The China Lover is described by the author as "a work of fiction based on historical events". Many of the characters in the book are based on real people. The story begins in the 1930s in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, and I'd barely read twenty pages or so before a character I'm quite familiar with made an appearance.

I'm talking of Amakasu Masahiko, who was one of the military police officers responsible for the murder in 1923 of Osugi Sake, Ito Noe, and Sakae's nephew, an event I've touched on previously. Amakasu was convicted of this crime and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. However, he was released after just three years and, after a period of study in France, joined the Japanese occupying forces in Manchuria, where he was responsible for managing the Japanese Army's involvement in the opium trade among other things. He later became the head of the Manchukuo Film Association, a company set up by the Japanese to make propaganda films to boost support for their occupation, and as such played a prominent role in the earlier career of The China Lover's main character, Yamaguchi Yoshiko. Some of you may also remember him from the movie The Last Emperor, in which he was played by Sakamoto Ryuichi. In fact many characters from that movie appear in the first part of The China Lover, including Emperor Pu Yi himself, who was a Charlie Chaplin fan, apparently.

Distance walked today: 0km
Total distance walked since Tokaido training began: 149.5km
Days left until departure: 37

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