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No incident in Japan’s history is more controversial than the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fearing that a modern generation saw only the “microcosm” of these tragic events, Laurens van der Post wanted to illustrate the “macrocosm” of the wider Pacific War in “The Night of the New Moon.” First published in 1970, this account of his time in a Japanese prisoner-of-war POW camp is one of van der Post’s two books that inspired Nagisa Oshima’s film “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.”

he Night of the New Moon, by Laurens van der Post
128 pages
Vintage, Nonfiction.

Born in South Africa in 1906, van der Post served with the British Army in Java during World War II, and spent the final years of the war interned in a POW camp after surrendering to Japanese forces.

Van der Post believed that the pride and honor of Imperial Japanese Army, soldiers would make them fight to the end, and he was fearful that POWs would be massacred if the Allies invaded the Japanese mainland, as planned for September 1945.

Once-lauded, van der Post is now dismissed by some as a charlatan for his views on the war and Hiroshima. Modern historians increasingly tend to point to the significance of the Soviet declaration of war on Japan as a key event that caused the Emperor to sue for peace, but van der Post believed that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — “supernatural events” — forced the Japan’s leaders to abandon a previously rigid mindset. (Damian Flanagan)

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

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