From Publishers Weekly
The second novel (following 1991's Playing the Game) from nonfiction specialist Buruma (Behind the Mask, etc.) is based with biographical diligence on the life of the Japanese actress known variously as Ri Koran, Yoshiko Yamaguchi and (in American films) Shirley Yamaguchi. Narrated by gay cinephile Sidney Vanoven, part one is driven by his cultural and sexual fascination with Japan, fired from the moment he arrives during America's postwar occupation. Buruma's colorful evocation of young Sidney's obsessions, which include Ri Koran, is further enlivened by Sidney's fanciful encounters with clueless visiting Americans (including a libidinous Truman Capote). Part two, set before WWII, is narrated by Sato Daisuke, whose shadowy connection to the film industry intersects over the years with Ri Koran's rise to stardom, but their story gets overwhelmed by Buruma's meticulous attention to Japan's invasion of China. Part three, set in more contemporary times, is narrated by a Japanese scriptwriter caught up in the Palestinian struggle—a story reported by an elderly Yoshiko, now host of a Japanese TV talk show. Less would have been more in this competent but overstuffed story. (Sept.)
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*Starred Review* Given the complexity of his award-winning journalism and penetrating books of cultural analysis, Buruma is bound to write novels of similar gravitas, although he can also be witty and provocative. Drawing on his deep knowledge of Asia and a passion for Japanese cinema, Buruma found his perfect subject in Yoshiko Yamaguchi, the nearly forgotten, once controversial Japanese singer and actress turned journalist and politician. It takes three male narrators in three different eras to convey the full drama of Yoshiko’s life of transformations, from her posing as the Chinese performer Ri Koran to her roles in U.S.-directed Japanese propaganda films, her marriage to the artist Isamu Noguchi, and her courageous reporting in Saigon and Beirut. As Buruma bends the beam of history through the prism of his imagination and spotlights the many contradictory roles Yoshiko played, she becomes our shimmering guide through the shadowy realm where art, eroticism, and politics collide. The dark deeds of Tokyo gangsters, the endless horror of Hiroshima, the deep wounds of occupation, the sensuous power of film, and the strange circumstances that induced three Japanese gunmen to launch a terrorist attack on the Tel Aviv airport––all are facets in Buruma’s magnificent saga of war and prejudice, beauty and tyranny, sacrifice and survival. --Donna Seaman
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