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Monday, August 3, 2009

Homecoming - a novel by Osaragi 大佛 次郎


During these hectic days which I can't really predict when to over -- I tried my best to suppress my stress with reading novel. I remembered that about 2 years ago I bought a bunch (oh, it WAS really a bunch..) of Japanese classic novel when I had a trip to Bali. I remembered I spent almost $100 to shop the books and I needed to drag my brother to bring the heavy plastics back to our hotel which more than a kilo :D

It's been 2 years, I still have a lot waiting to be red. I just finished Kobo Abe's Secret Rendezvous - which I will talk about him later - and decided to open Jiro Osaragi's Homecoming.

The first chapter attracted me. This was the first time I red a Japanese book talked about WW II with Japanese perspective without making them as 'innocent' imperialist. It was a genuine knowledge that Japanese had refused some fact of their crime of war like the case of juugun ianfu, romusha, and even not telling their role during war in school textbook. Of course I understand that if Japanese government did apology, it meant they approved to conceal their crime which could led them to international court of crime.

For Japanese who reads this article, this post is not a critics or attacks. It's simply reality as I am now living in an South East Asia where the countries there were tasted the Japanese occupation. And by God's hand, I decided to read Homecoming which I thought was a good moment: most of ASEAN countries are going to celebrate their Independence Day on July to August.


Brief Story

Published in 1950, Homecoming or Kikyo (in Japanese) was set somewhere in Malaysia and Singapore. I was quite confuse with so many part in the story took Singapore as if it was a part of Malaysia but then I remembered in that period, Singapore was still a part of Malaysia.

The characters were mostly met during the World War II in Malaysia (Malacca) and Japan right after the War ended. I'm reading the Tuttle Publishing English version, now chapter "Night Birds". However, I already encountered some interesting characters:
-Kyogo - whom I think was a loner and a person who had gift of ability to make a good prediction.
- Saeko - a charming woman. In my opinion, she's a very smart one.
- Yeh - was a minor character because he wasn't list at The Principal Characters page but I found him having important role to drive the story.
- Ushigi - a typical military person. You know what I mean, right...?

The story was opened with Saeko accompanying Onozaki, a painter, to a sightseeing. Then we were dragged to find her secretly bought diamonds in a china town. On her way back to pick up Onozaki who was still on the hill, painting; she met Ushigi. Saeko seemed well-known among the Japanese military, thanks to her business in Malacca. The meeting led her to meet 'a man without a name' (the chapter's title). This person was an old friend of Ushigi who completely abandoned his mother country and his nationality. Yes, he was Kyogo.


Kyogo's Thought

When I was drown to him at the first time, I thought he was a pesimist but later I thought he was too realistic. His correct prediction about the war (and even a gamble) showed me that he was a careful and observer type. Probably, this was developed because formerly he was a military person. Osaragi revealed Kyogo's past little by little after that. His nationality was taken and in Japan, he was known dead already. As a ghost, I quite understood when he said, "When a man has no definite citizenship, like me, you shouldn't be surprised no matter where you find him."

The most interesting part of Kyogo started at page 58, when he decided to walk alone the suburban. This chapter was set when Japanese announced surrender. On his walk, he met some Japanese soldiers whom were on the way go to the port, sailing back to Japan. Suddenly he heard a big sound of explosion. What was it?

One of the silent soldiers spoke. "Somebody's killed himself." He stood up and looked back into the grove. The others didn't move from their crouch, and none of the soldiers lying on the ground got up.
Like an assembly of mutes suddenly given speech, they started talking. But their talk was strangely subdued.
"It's him, I bet," one of them said.
"Yeah. Him" the one next to him answered. His hand moved on the ground as though he were plucking grass or picking up pebbles.
"He was done for anyway." (from page 59)

By the next time he passed that way again, this was what happened:
Something white hanging on the trunk of a rubber tree caught Kyogo's eye while he was still in the car. He got out alone and went over to it. It was a dirty knapsack with a scrap of paper attached to it that must have been torn from a notebook.

Kyogo turned the paper over and found "Salt" wirtten in pencil. The single Japanese character, written large, and next to it, in a running scrawl: "Not dirty." And the bag hung heavily, as though full of salt. This must be the work of the soldiers who had been here last night. And Kyogo knew that the bag and the salt must have belonged to the soldier who had killed himself. (from page 61)

I was shocked reading this page. It was so real that the war could drive a person finished his life. This was no relationship to Japanese way of seppuku either. In any other place in this world, many young soldier decided to suicide as if there was no future. Kyogo, in later chapter was also thought that way. He had his sympathy to those soldier, as he encountered one more time the march of returning soldiers. His feeling toward Japan then completely changed when he visited Batu cave (page 67).


Smooth Interlock Characters

Homecoming would be one of the best novel I'd ever red. I always love a story where the characters are connected one each other in a way. For example, I enjoyed watching Crash (Oscar winner) and Babel. The stories had a great way to connect all characters and showed me how great it was developed.

For a book that was written in 1950, I would say Homecoming was a genius book. I never find any old movies or books which made interwoven characters ever.

So, my recommendation?
This is a must! Not so much War literature that astonish to read as A Farewell to Arms (Hemingway), this Asian perspective should be on your list, too. Osaragi, as a Japanese was neutral and objective to write Kyogo's thought. It was very human to think as Kyogo, to think as a universal human, to think as a man without citizenship..


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Get it from Amazon for very very veeery cheap price!

picture is relied from Library Thing

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