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The novel begins on his first night on parole; it slowly reveals his past, his slow adjustment to the freedom from prison and the burden of life-long parole, his tentative reaching out for relationships with other humans ...
The story is well-written in a slow pace that matches the adjustment to a world outside prison quite unlike the world at the time of his imprisonment. The joy of the book is in the details - the seeming heaviness of shoes after years of prison canvas shoes, the steaming miso after years of soup cooled before it reached your cell. Through these details the author provides a psychological novel exploring guilt, redemption, freedom, restriction, social ties ....
This book is well worth reading, well worth a thoughtful reading.
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After Isaku's father has been removed from the home in just such an arrangement, the boy continues to live with his mother and younger brother and sister, Isokichi and Kane. The story is, in some ways, the tale of Isaku's loss of innocence as he attempts to fulfill the duties of head of the household--fishing for saury and sardines and octopus and squid, and, most importantly, tending the salt cauldrons. For Isaku, this represents a confirmation of his own maturation, for the salt cauldrons are of prime importance to the town and its people.
A naïve boy, Isaku comes to learn that, in addition to boiling the salt out of sea water to sell, the fires on shore serve another, more sinister, purpose--that of luring unsuspecting trading ships onto the reef. The village calls it O-fune-sama and sees it--the destruction of those ships and the subsequent murder of their sailors, as a gift from the gods, no different from any other harvest, such as rice and pottery, cloth and utensils. Far from being a crime, what the villagers are now engaged in nourishes the small town and keeps it from dying.
Even as Isaku learns about the inherent risks--specifically those of luring clan ships to ruin instead of trading ships--O-fune-sama is never questioned: it is a necessity and a customary part of the yearly cycle; there is no moral question to be answered...other than the town's quiet acknowledgment that no one beyond the village must know.
In this small book, time unfolds at a leisurly, but disquieting, pace. There is a quiet passing of the seasons in which normalcy seems to prevail: couples wed, children are born, elderly persons die. As Isaku's father is not due to return for years, a routine finally settles in and it is time to fish for saury, then squid, then octopus. And, when the trade ships are running again, it is time for O-fune-sama.
One year, however, the inevitable happens and there is retribution for the town's crimes.
Shipwrecks is a horrifying and tragic book that unfolds slowly and deliberately. Because the village situation is grim and its needs are clear, Isaku's grasp of the situation is understandable; the reader can definitely sympathize...and empathize. And this is what makes the inevitable punishment so personally tragic and sad, yet so very morally justified.
Transport yourself to a medieval Japanese fishing village, and experience the life of Isaku with his family and fellow villagers over a period of 3 years. The tale is filled with ironies - a land that sounds like paradise yet the people living here are in constant struggle with poverty and starvation; shipwrecks that bring bounty and joy to the people yet they live in fear of being discovered; and the final outcome of a blessed shipwreck that washes in to their shore....
The author does not make any judgements nor does he describe in detail the emotions of these villagers in their plight. Rather, the reader is left to imagine a riot of emotions - empathy, horror, and.. hope.
I couldn't put this book down.
I cannot wait to read Yoshimura's other works.
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The book is apparently based on historical incidents-a number of flashback sequences detail the ordering of executions by high-ranking officers. What American readers might find unsettling however, is the rationale for the executions, that the bomber crews were deliberately targeting civilians, and thus not subject to POW rules of treatment. Indeed, while the Allied firebombing of Dresden is well known, the firebombings of Japanese cities are relatively forgotten episodes of the war which Yoshimura plainly seeks to remind the reader of. The atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are portrayed as massive exclamation points on the indiscriminate bombings, and it becomes disturbingly easy to understand the retaliatory executions. At times the prose gets a little wooden, especially over a few pages that list the numbers of bomber sorties and subsequent casualties, but on the whole the sparse style perfectly captures Takuya's internal terror. In the end, the true subjectivity and relativity of justice are exposed.
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Musashi was built in the Mitsubishi shipyard at Nagasaki, a town which in the late 1930s had a substantial Chinese community. When it was decided to award the construction contract to the Mitsubishi yard, the Japanese secret police's paranoia was so great that they moved into Nagasaki's Chinatown and more or less destroyed it in a night. They arrested almost every inhabitant and - while they were about it, so to speak - beat several of them to death for being suspiciously Chinese.
The shipyard was overlooked by hills; Japanese secret police would hide in those hills arresting and torturing any hill-walkers or ramblers thought to be paying too much attention to the view towards the shipyard below. Anyone hillwalking around Nagasaki had to face the land at all times, or else. The police did this even though nothing could actually be seen of the shipyard - because the shipbuilders, as well as building the world's largest battleship, were doing so behind the world's largest sisal-rope curtain. This weighed 400 tons and used up almost the entire sisal-rope output of Japan, driving the price to ludicrous heights and creating another security problem in that people might start asking what the Navy needed all that sisal-rope for....
At one point in the construction, a blueprint of part of the turret ring was accidentally incinerated; assumed stolen, the builders were facing liquidation as spies by the secret police when its true fate came to light.
And so it goes on. The ship itself feels like a metaphor rather than a real entity; one has little impression of her other than as a vast, brooding presence, doomed by our foreknowledge of her fate. The ship is oddly anonymous, not least because the builders were not allowed even to know her name. Farcically, when she was launched, the dignitary involved mumbled it inaudibly into his hand so the people building her would not find out the real name of "Number Two Battleship"! Nor were they allowed to pool experience with the builders of Number One or Number Three Battleship, although they did learn the ominous news that the latter was to be completed as an aircraft carrier.
No such useful fate for Musashi. The launch itself was a fraught operation; never having launched anything so huge before, there was concern that she might go careering uncontrollably across the channel and beach herself catastrophically on the opposite shore, so a raft had to be specially built and moored opposite the slipway. This way, Number Two Battleship would have something softer than the shore to crash into if such a thing happened.
It didn't, of course, and off went Musashi to battle - or rather to war, to idle at Truk, to Lingga Roads, and other anchorages, for she only ever saw one battle. And even that was a battle against aircraft, to be sunk with contemptuous ease. She absorbed tremendous damage, but her anti-aircraft armament - 251 weapons, according to Januscz Skulski (in "The Battleship Yamato") - proved pitifully ineffective.
Japan was always, after all, going to run out of battleships before America ran out of torpedoes. This book tells the story of perhaps the only unequivocally successful aspect of Musashi's career - the effort to keep her secret. The Americans never suspected Musashi's existence until they sank her; the point of her existence, arguably, remains a mystery to this day.
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