For Eric, a black serviceman stationed in Japan during the Vietnam War, a fresh predicament to his growing pacifist sentiment materializes as he develops a relationship with Karen, a white American student. In a time of ideological conflict, the two must negotiate a minefield of racial hostility.
The story is told from the private room of a hospital, where Karen’s father, whose sexual transgressions are a source of family shame, lies bedridden and mute. Unable to stop his daughter’s accounts of her relationship, violent confrontations between the Zengakuren student movement, draconian methods taken by the authorities to maintain order and Japan’s complicity in the war, he is her ultimate captive audience.
There is something decidedly Beckett-like about a work of literature centered on a monologue directed at a supine figure, one who may be alert and tormented by what he hears, or perhaps entirely dead to the world.
A lesser writer than Pulvers would have chosen easier themes to explore in a novel than this, where the trauma of war and the trauma of family are represented as poisoned, coeval streams. Addressing a slew of issues, many of which remain relevant today, this story can also be understood as a coming-of-age novel of a young woman at a time when the world is rapidly unraveling.
The most resonating novels, we realize, are not those that inspire or comfort, but those that unsettle us and raise questions that we thought were safely buried in the amnesia of time.
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