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December 6: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – November 25, 2003
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Gorky Park and Havana Bay comes another gripping novel of loyalty, betrayal, and intrigue on the eve of the greatest military conflict in the history of mankind....
Amid the imperialist fervor of late 1941 Tokyo, Harry Niles is a man with a mission -- self-preservation. But Niles was raised by missionary parents and educated in the shadows of Tokyo's underworld -- making his loyalties as dubious as his business dealings.
Now, on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Niles must decide where his true allegiances lie, as he tries to juggle his Japanese mistress and an adulterous affair with the wife of a British diplomat; avoid a modern-day samurai who is honor-bound to kill him; and survive the machinations of the Japanese high command, whose plans for conquest may just dictate his survival.
Set in a maelstrom of personal temptations and mortal enemies, with a remarkable anti-hero caught in a land he can never call his own, DECEMBER 6 is a triumph of imagination, history, and riveting storytelling.
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The setting in a country devoted to the cult of the Emperor and militarism and informed by ugly racism is beautifully depicted. Through flashbacks, we see Harry's upbringing, neglect by his parents, abused by his Japanese classmates. Harry is a survivor - a chameleon in a country where his face immediately brands him as a gaijin or outsider. He trusts no-one and is trusted by no-one. He has ties through his childhood friends (or enemies) to the Navy, the intelligence service and the criminal underworld. But Harry is also a classic knight errant. He feels the war about to come and he ultimately knows which side he's on. And Harry knows, or at least strongly suspects, where and how the attack is coming.
This is a brilliant book. It looks at the other side of Pearl Harbor and makes us understand the various forces working within Japanese society -- and especially its military elite. There is a creepy samurai villain, an enigmatic heroine, and many other characters and sub-plots, all expertly woven into an exciting and interesting plot that is deeply satisfying.
serving. The nightclub Harry owns is in Tokyo and on the day before Pearl Harbor Harry is a busy man keeping at bay a psychotic army colonel, a crazy girlfriend with suicidal-homicidal impulses, and two members of the Japanese law enforcement establishment. Simultaneously, Harry is trying to help a young German-Chinese couple escape before the wall starts, assist Admiral Yamamoto in avoiding war, and plan for his own future which definitely includes getting the hell out of Japan before the wall starts. When it comes to planning Harry is definitely making it up as he goes along, and it all combines into one rattling good yarn. Many readers may think Harry's actions are highly improbable, but then, millions of Americans thought December 7 was improbable on the real December 6, 1941.
On a deeper level Harry Niles is Everyman searching for his identity. He is the son of American missionaries who spends his formative years attending a Japanese school, wanting to be Japanese so he fits in, but even playing samurai games Harry is always forced to play the bad guy who is always beat up by his playmates. Harry gladly accepts the beatings as long as he has membership in the gang. Forced to return to America by his missionary father Harry drifts through his teen and young adult years, and a succession of jobs, until he winds up drifting back to Japan as a result of his employment. The firm goes under, Harry survives by conniving, conning and becoming connected with Japanese gangsters and members of both the Japanese and American governments. He is used but not trusted, his loyalties suspect. Harry wants to believe in his own cynicism, and often he does, because he sees that both the Americans and Japanese base their action flawed reasoning and foolish beliefs. At the end of the novel Harry has not chosen one national identity over another (although some readers may not agree) but I believe he will survive because he still maintains the identity he developed over his lifetime -- highly intelligent, intuitive, con artist and gambler. That's a useful skill set in any culture.
The action takes place in Tokyo of 1941 in the days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbour. Japan is on a mission to conquer the world as part of its Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere policy. Fresh from its murderous pillage and plunder of Mongolia, Nanking massacre and other unspeakable atrocities in China, it determines to push the US and UK out of Asia. To do this requires oil. Japan has no oil. Harry may be in a position to advise and, as he planned it, he is recruited. As a gambler and con artist of heroic proportion, he sees a way to both hoodwink the Japanese militarists and jump clear when all hits the fan.
It is a tale told by a master story-teller that respects the reader's intellect and knowledge of historical events, but weaves wonderful cultural detail of time and place into a great and unforgettable yarn.