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Ready for a little Yuletide reading?

Find out what our reviewers recommend for this year's Best of Asia books

by David Cozy

FOR THE FIGHTING SPIRIT OF THE WALNUT by Takashi Hiraide, translated by Sawako Nakayasu (New Directions)

In “For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut,” Takashi Hiraide shows us that poetry need not be chopped-prose maunderings on the changing of the seasons, the sun setting behind bare trees, or the demise of a beloved dog. Rather, with its formal inventiveness, its wit and its whimsy, and its utter unpredictability, “Walnut” (in Sawako Nakayasu’s splendid translation), reminds us why we bother with poetry at all.

BLACK GLASSES LIKE CLARK KENT: A GI’s Secret From Postwar Japan, by Terese Svoboda (Graywolf Press).

Terese Svoboda’s meditation on her uncle’s time as a prison guard in occupied Japan will trouble those who believe that the horrors of Abu Ghraib are an anomaly, but it will do so in a way more subtle than straight history or angry polemic might have done. Svoboda’s attempt to come to terms with her uncle’s actions in Japan is equal parts memoir, mystery and indictment, and is successful on every count.

BOTANDORO: Stories, Fables, Parables, and Allegories: A Miscellany, by Donald Richie, edited and with an introduction by Leza Lowitz (Printed Matter Press)

Donald Richie’s “Botandoro” is a collection of “stories, fables, parables and allegories” composed over 70 years. Taken together, they remind us once again of the author’s Picasso-like breadth. Whether he’s telling a bawdy tale from his early days in Tokyo or naturalistic stories that draw on his American upbringing, or spinning allegories that unsettle — vampires standing in for homosexuals — Richie’s work from a career longer than many artists’ lives is consistently delightful.

David Cozy is a writer and critic and teaches at Showa Women’s University.

BEST OF BOOKS: 2008



DONALD RICHIE



STEVE FINBOW



JEFF KINGSTON



STEPHEN MANSFIELD



DAVID BURLEIGH