Tim Pendry's Reviews > Tokyo Year Zero

Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace
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's review
Mar 12, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: crime, east-asian, horror, british

The sad irony of completing this book just before and reviewing it just after the latest major earthquake in Japan is not lost on me.

The book is set amongst disaster - a hint of an earlier devastating Earthquake that hit Tokyo directly in 1923 is overshadowed by the triple moral horror of Japanese atrocities in China in the 1930s, the downright evil Allied firebombing of the civilian population and the humiliation of occupation.

This is a crime novel written by a Briton who has lived long in Japan but it is also a novel of horror. Like all such novels, I cannot tell you the plot so I have to give you a warning instead.

This book is worth reading to the end but you may be irritated by Peace's irritating stylistic affectation of constant repetitions of sounds and phrases, incantations that have their ultimate purpose that becomes clear by the end but which bear down on the reader for the first 140 pages before the story really takes over.

Yes, this conceit does have its purpose in building atmosphere and psychological trauma but it is painful to read at times and some of you may just give up. I suggest that you don't ... he is a fine writer and a little experimentation in a hackneyed genre is welcome.

I am always wary of writers purporting to 'know' another culture or past but whatever it is that Peace is claiming to know, I won't quarrel with him. As if to deal with sceptics like me, the book closes with a glossary and four pages of further reading in Japanese culture, both fiction and non-fiction.

What he has done well is capture humiliation under an occupation that was far from humane but which was well deserved. As in Germany in Year Zero sex is currency in the battle for survival and humiliation lies not only in defeat but in becoming a whole race of beta males before the alpha conquerors.

The experience may have been relatively short-lived (two or three years perhaps) but it was scarring and, as disaster, it ranks with the earthquake and fire bombing in its own way.

Peace brilliantly captures the dogged a-moralism of a nation of men forced to reinvent themselves much as former Nazis had to do half way across the world.

This is no fashionable political conspiracy novel, however, but a grim tale of sexual obsession and murder and the horror lies less in the slashing of victims (we are used to that by now) and more in the ambience of despair.

It is the first of a trilogy based (we understand) on real murder cases during the American Occupation and, if I can bear any repetition of the stylistic conceits, I shall seek the rest out.
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