Posts Tagged ‘wwII history’
When I was a child, tatay, my grandfather, used to drop snippets of his time as a guerrilla soldier during World War II. I was too young, and uninterested to ever really hear.
He’s dead now, and though I still am largely uninterested in the details of war, I regret forgetting practically all his musings, for I am now largely interested in the history and culture of my country.
I’ve discovered a renewed passion, it seems, for home, thanks to my readings and travels.
If tatay were still alive, he will very likely wish to tell me about gun battles, ambushes, running for cover, comrades slain, and enemies killed. But I just read this book, Code Name High Pockets, which is about the true stories of ordinary and not-so-ordinary men and women involved in the resistance movement in the Philippines during WWII; under threat of torture, death, and worse from the Kempetai, interrogation officers of the Japanese army, they gave bread to starving prisoners of wars, delivered food, medicine, and messages to guerrillas hiding in the mountains, and helped friends and neighbors survive that hellish time.
Reading the book was also hellish for me; the author, Edna Bautista Binkowski, had this disconcerting ability to make those times real for this reader. She added names to dates, gave faces to participants, and made people out of historical figures. She told me their stories, pulled me into their lives, and kept me with them as they met horrific deaths, in the prison camps, during the Bataan Death March, or the foul dungeons of Fort Santiago.
One of those who played an important role in the war was Claire Phillips, an American who established an exclusive club in Manila for Japanese officers and affluent Japanese businessmen. She used her club to gather information and make money for the underground as well as guerrilla movement.
High Pockets is her story, but so is it also the stories of so many others: Filipinos, Americans, Spaniards, guerillas, nurses, businessmen, housewives, city folk, villagers… Most were leading quiet lives, until the war forced them to discover they were capable of great compassion, unimaginable hardships, and incredible heroism.
That there were so many of them was the highest and lowest point of the book, for I found it difficult to keep track of so many names across the pages. The pictures, black and white photographs that must have taken ages to find in the attics and trunks of these people’s sons and daughters, helped, but also gave me faces to dream about during the intense week reading from cover to cover.
Now, I’m thinking, if tatay were still alive, and if I were to listen, he would tell me about himself, his friends, his loved ones who lived and died, trying to make sense of the horror, or trying to do the best they could in the face of humanity’s worst.
Having read High Pockets, I am aware more than I care to of humanity’s best and worst, as it contains graphic accounts of the rape, mutilation, torture, and execution committed by the Japanese army on this land. It was war, for which demons and monsters had the right of might, and angels could only tread lightly.
On the title page, this is written: A legacy to the young ones, so that they may understand what the old ones had sacrificed.
I’m sorry I was too young, and tatay died before he found in his grandchildren the heart to know what he had sacrificed. But I’m glad that I have access to books such as High Pockets, and the willingness to read them, for though I know the value of forgiveness, I realize, upon reading this book, that it may not be such a good idea to forget—we may just repeat the unforgivable if we do.
I read High Pockets for my book club’s monthly reading challenge. The challenge in May was to read a book about Philippine history. I figure a book about an American Mata Hari in Manila would be an exciting read. I didn’t reckon that I would be stunned out of forgetfulness into awe, and sadness. ‘After the war, where did the heroes, who survived, go?’ we should ask ourselves, and try to find out. I bet stories of their struggles after the war are more tragic, and unrewarding, than their time fighting for freedom, in a time where everyone is busy forgetting.
Someday, not yet, I will read those stories. I am not as brave as Claire Phillips (alias High Pockets), Naomi Flores (alias Looter), or Nurse Josefa Hilado. I can only take hellish a bit at a time.
For now, I would like to suggest to the book’s author and publisher to invest in additional editing for the book. Though well written, it had numerous grammatical errors, and could do with some ruthless cutting of details.
Ono refuses to be an artist of the floating world, yet he goes back to being one. As Japan embraces the future, Ono can only sit back and watch while the Old Japan fades away.
‘This book must be the greatest mystery I have ever read’ was my first reaction upon finishing The Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro.
That’s because even as I turned the last page, I still didn’t know what the heck the story was about; what the characters were thinking; what the point of all the meandering was.
There was hardly any plot, no climax, no catharsis even. Page after page, I followed the day-to-day life of Masuji Ono, an aging Japanese artist, immediately following his country’s defeat in World War II. Supposedly, I was inside his head, but did he truly know himself?
Anyway, all the while he set about improving his daughter’s value as a wife, he gave me glimpses of his journey as an artist, first as a mass-producer of ‘typical’ Japanese artworks sold to foreign clients, as apprentice to a master artist of the floating world, then as political artist and revolutionary official.
Scenes floated into each other. Flashbacks were flashbacks to more flashbacks. Sometimes, I got confused about which part of his life we were now in. Was he young, trying to finish enough paintings to meet the quota in a tiny attic by oil-light? Or was he at the height of his career, and that of Migi-Hidari, a pleasure district frequented by artists, writers, and thinkers, soaking in the atmosphere, the sake, the sight waitresses in kimonos, and the sound of boisterous conversations? Or was he by his favorite restaurant, a survivor of American bombings amidst the ruins?
At one time, I thought that the artist of the floating world was not Ono but Ishiguro, so fluid did he make the narrative… I was on a raft or a boat floating past watercolor scenes I can never return to or change.
For to be an artist of the floating world is to capture fleeting beauty. In Ono’s world, that beauty is often found in the pleasure districts and geisha houses… Tonight, the lamplight may fall on a woman’s cheek with a golden glow; tomorrow, it may give off a different mood, a more vivacious one compared with the sad loveliness of the other night.
In essence, every night, every hour, every minute is different. To capture beauty is to capture that which is lost forever. To be an artist of the floating world is to be the best kind of hedonist-and artist.
But Ono turned his back on this world to create political art-aka propaganda-that helped fuel Japan’s desire for conquest. He meant well, but when Japan lost the war, Ono faced the shame of being part of that failure.
As Ono rambled and meandered, around him was family turmoil, with his daughters and in-laws despising him and criticizing him; shame and suicide, with colleagues committing suicide as a way to redeem themselves; guilt and denial, because Ono may not be the noble and highly respected artist he believes himself to be; and, finally, sorrow and naiveté, over Japan’s changing world and the Japanese’s ready acceptance of Western modes of thoughts and principles.
As I write my impressions of the book, I realize something: the punchline!
All these insights, from a book in which little was revealed… For instance, Ono’s family was never disrespectful in tone, manner, and language, yet now I realize they were simply humoring him; Ono keeps claiming he did nothing wrong, yet I now see he actually committed numerous betrayals; Japan was supposedly sunk deep in guilt and sadness over the war-yet what was it so gloomy about?-not the atrocities the nation was responsible for in other countries but over the loss of the nation’s face globally.
It took a while (two weeks) for me to get the book, but get it I did. The last insight may even be an inside look of the author’s inward-looking mindset regarding WWII and not just a general picture of the Japanese society psyche (as represented in the book) post war.
Damn, Ishiguro is good! Subtle as hell, but with an impact that catches you unawares.