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Dragon of the Mangroves

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Success Stories

by Yasuyuki Kasai

Always, well done war stories are anti-war anthems. This novel, inspired by true events of World War II, is no exception. On one hand the Japanese author insightfully follows Sumi, the hero who is a Japanese officer assigned the rescue mission of fellow soldiers trapped by the invasion of British and Indian forces in Burma. Alternately he tracks those fellow soldiers of the Japanese 121st Infantry Regiment in their desperate retreat that involves avoiding contact with the swell of enemy troops by day and ferocious crocodiles by night.

The story is well researched keeping authentic time, military units and details. The author challenges the reader to resolve fact and fiction of a popular myth regarding this most difficult time in his nation’s history. At times it is brutally graphic as "…before he could finish his order, the shell burst behind the bunker. As the scenery behind him turned white, Kasuga witnessed the faint image of a soldier’s body, torn in two, flying in the air. Just then he lost his hearing. All seemed like a silent movie, weirdly lacking in reality…razor splinters… blast propelled one of their bulky Type Ko ammunition boxes... Beside it… the glossy intestines hanging outside the ripped-up abdomen of one of the ammo bearers… He could smell the blood mixed with gunpowder."

Balancing such inhumanity is the lovely description of nature… "Mangroves covered almost all the coast there. Every tree was propped by many stilted roots and fanned out in boughs and branches, all luxuriant with thick green leaves, in all directions. The odor of the sea filled the air… Peaty land sometimes replaced mangroves… low reeds covered these bogs. The color was verdant…" Obviously this was a land where primitive reptiles and nature still resisted all intruders.

The suspense of the rescuers, disguised as Burmese, attempting to join up with their disorganized, desperate, retreating compatriots builds excellently. All facets of the Japanese warrior are demonstrated including the ancient Shogun practice of drinking-water filled bamboo doubling as flotation devices, the noble officer who publicly dresses down his subordinate for arrogantly helping himself to a piece of fruit from a vendor, and the insane Military Academy graduate who will not accept rescue.

The author tells an interesting and compelling story using irony as subtitle to every chapter.

 

mangroves.jpg

ISBN 0595390269
iUniverse, 2006
152pp, paperback
Retail price $12.95

Open Book

Review by Nan Seal