Thursday, January 29, 2009
Soldiers in Hiding, by Richard Wiley
A 2006 reissue of a 1987 winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award. In the early 1940s, two Japanese-American youth travel to Tokyo to play music, and then Pearl Harbor prevents their return. They are, by default, drafted into the war and serve in the Philippines, to disastrous results. The story is told interspersed with flashbacks on the events that shape an old man's life: his marriage, mistress, career in radio, his wily treatment of American tourists on the streets. Written with intensity in language that sings with action and aliveness, that makes distinctions between Asian and American despite the book being written in English, the character as both an old man and his youthful self is easy to love, though he is not the most honorable or courageous of men. He is drawn with clear humanity, his flaws presented without judgment, though he himself judges others. The writing is rich with metaphor and vivid detail, and rewarding with surprising wisdom and astute observation of the action. And action does happen; plot evolves and climaxes; and we discover along with the main character what is truly important in life, even one that is so heavily laden with history and regret.
Though this isn't concerned with Korea or Korean issues, Wiley addresses issues of language, self identity and national identity that resonate.