O’Brian, Patrick. Richard Temple (W.W. Norton, 2006).
The eponymous protagonist of this novel is a prisoner of the German army in France; but as we soon discover, he is nobody's idea of a hero. In order to keep himself sane while denying the charges and absorbing the beatings of his captors, Richard Temple conducts a minute examination—one might almost call it a prosecution—of his own life. Temple escapes from a blighted childhood and his widowed, alcoholic mother thanks to an artistic gift, which is the one thing of value he has to his name. His life as a painter in London of the 1930s is cruelly deprived. In order to eat, he squanders his one asset by becoming a forger of art, specializing in minor works by Utrillo. He is rescued by the love of a beautiful and wealthy woman, and it is the failure of this relationship, coupled with the outbreak of war, that propels him into the world of espionage.
Oe, Kenzaburo (Editor). The Crazy Iris: And Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath (Grove Press, 1994).
Edited by one of Japan’s leading and internationally acclaimed writers, this collection of short stories was compiled to mark the fortieth anniversary of the August 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Here some of Japan’s best and most representative writers chronicle and re-create the impact of this tragedy on the daily lives of peasants, city professionals, artists, children, and families. From the “crazy” iris that grows out of season to the artist who no longer paints in color, the simple details described in these superbly crafted stories testify to the enormity of change in Japanese life, as well as in the future of our civilization. Included are “The Crazy Iris” by Masuji Ibuse, “Summer Flower” by Tamiki Hara, “The Land of Heart’s Desire” by Tamiki Hara, “Human Ashes” by Katsuzo Oda, “Fireflies” by Yoka Ota, “The Colorless Paintings” by Ineko Sata, “The Empty Can” by Kyoko Hayashi, “The House of Hands” by Mitsuharu Inoue, and “The Rite” by Hiroko Takenishi.
O’Nan, Stewart. A World Away (Picador USA, 2003).
In four highly acclaimed novels, Stewart O'Nan has proven himself among the most versatile of young writers, breathing new life into a wide range of literary traditions. A World Away is O'Nan at his most romantic and elegiac. By following the fortunes of the Langer family, whose oldest son, Rennie, is missing in action in the Pacific during World War II, O'Nan brilliantly captures the mood of this lost world and the changing fate of a country aware that when the war ends nothing will ever be the same.
Ondaatje, Michael. The English Patient (Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition, 2004).
Haunting and harrowing, as beautiful as it is disturbing, The English Patient tells the story of the entanglement of four damaged lives in an Italian monastery as World War II ends. The exhausted nurse, Hana; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burn victim who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal, and rescue illuminate this book like flashes of heat lightning.
Ooka, Shohei. Fires on the Plain (Tuttle Classics, 2001).
Fires recalls the author's experience as a prisoner captured by American forces during WWII figures. Set in Leyte, where the Japanese army is disintegrating under the hammering blows of American forces, the story focuses on the disintegration of one man, Private Tamura. One by one, each of his ties to society is destroyed, until Tamura, a sensitive and intelligent man, becomes an outcast. Yet it is the novel's uplifting vision during a time of ultimate horror that has made it one of Japan's greatest novels.
Ota, Makoto. The Breaking Jewel (Columbia University Press, 2003).
Set on an island in the South Pacific during the final days of World War II, when the tide has turned against Japan and the war has unmistakably become one of attrition, The Breaking Jewel offers a rare depiction of the Pacific War from the Japanese side and captures the essence of Japan's doomed imperial aims. The novel opens as a small force of Japanese soldiers prepares to defend a tiny and ultimately insignificant island from a full-scale assault by American forces. Its story centers on squad leader Nakamura, who resists the Americans to the end, as he and his comrades grapple with the idea of gyokusai, (translated as "the breaking jewel" or the "pulverization of the gem"), the patriotic act of mass suicide in defense of the homeland. Well known for his antiestablishment and antiwar sentiments, Makuto Oda gradually and subtly develops a powerful critique of the war and the racialist imperial aims that proved Japan's undoing.
Otsuka, Julie. When the Emperor was Divine (Penguin Books, 2004).
Julie Otsuka’s commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps unlike any we have ever seen. With crystalline intensity and precision, Otsuka uses a single family to evoke the deracination—both physical and emotional—of a generation of Japanese Americans. In five chapters, each flawlessly executed from a different point of view—the mother receiving the order to evacuate; the daughter on the long train ride to the camp; the son in the desert encampment; the family’s return to their home; and the bitter release of the father after more than four years in captivity—she has created a small tour de force, a novel of unrelenting economy and suppressed emotion. Spare, intimate, arrestingly understated, When the Emperor Was Divine is a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and an unmistakably resonant lesson for our times. It heralds the arrival of a singularly gifted new novelist.
Oznick, Cynthia. The Shawl (Vintage, 1990).
The Shawl is a brief story first published in the New Yorker in 1981; "Rosa," its longer companion piece, appeared in that magazine three years later. They tell a story of a woman who survived the Holocaust but who has no life in the present because her existence was stolen away from her in a past that does not end. "A book that etches itself indelibly in the reader's mind." (Publisher’s Weekly)