Synopses & Reviews
A transfixing portrait of a woman and a nation eagerly burying the past to transform the future
In his enthralling new novel, Ian Buruma uses the life of the starlet Yamaguchi Yoshiko as a lens through which to understand the lure of erotic fantasies in the conquest of nations. The China Lover reveals the catastrophic results when theater and politics blend in a lethal manner.
In her earliest days Ri Korana Japanese girl, born in Manchuria, who sang and acted in Japanese and Chinesewas forced to keep her Japanese identity a secret, to become a Manchurian singer and movie star playing Chinese beauties who fell in love with brave Japanese empire builders. In U.S.-occupied Tokyo, she returned to the screen as Yamaguchi Yoshiko, starring in films approved by American censors and designed to promote American-style democracy.
Before long, she decided to reinvent herself yet again by moving to the United States. Three months after Japan and the United States signed a peace treaty in San Francisco, Yamaguchi rededicated herself to pursuing a career in American movies, this time as Shirley Yamaguchi, playing exotic Japanese beauties falling in love with American soldiers. But she was not just the subject of male fantasies on the cinema screen. She married the Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who wanted her to be the perfect traditional Japanese woman. When her many roles, in life and in film, proved impossible to reconcile, Shirley left Noguchi, retired as an actress, and married a promising young Japanese diplomat.
At the outset of the 1970s, the life of Yamaguchi Yoshiko took another dramatic turn. As host of a Japanese television show for housewives, Yoshiko accepted an assignment in the Middle East, where she met Yassir Arafat and a prominent Palestinian terrorist. A member of her crew, affiliated with the Japanese Red Army, would return to commit a terrible crime while Yoshiko became a founding member of the Japanese- Palestinian Friendship Association, and ended her career as a politician in the right-wing ruling party of Japan.
In Burumas reimagining of the life of Yamaguchi Yoshiko, a Japanese torn among patriotism for her parents homeland, wordly ambition, and sympathy for the Chinese, she would reflect almost exactly the twists and turns in the history of modern Japan.
"The second novel (following 1991's Playing the Game) from nonfiction specialist Buruma (Behind the Mask, etc.) is based with biographical diligence on the life of the Japanese actress known variously as Ri Koran, Yoshiko Yamaguchi and (in American films) Shirley Yamaguchi. Narrated by gay cinephile Sidney Vanoven, part one is driven by his cultural and sexual fascination with Japan, fired from the moment he arrives during America's postwar occupation. Buruma's colorful evocation of young Sidney's obsessions, which include Ri Koran, is further enlivened by Sidney's fanciful encounters with clueless visiting Americans (including a libidinous Truman Capote). Part two, set before WWII, is narrated by Sato Daisuke, whose shadowy connection to the film industry intersects over the years with Ri Koran's rise to stardom, but their story gets overwhelmed by Buruma's meticulous attention to Japan's invasion of China. Part three, set in more contemporary times, is narrated by a Japanese scriptwriter caught up in the Palestinian struggle a story reported by an elderly Yoshiko, now host of a Japanese TV talk show. Less would have been more in this competent but overstuffed story. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Evocative...brings her world vividly to life...always fascinating."
The New York Times Book Review
A lushly rendered piece of historical fiction
Buruma conveys the exhilaration and devastation of Japan's military folly and its resulting moral hangover through the lens of the film world at the time. With a sharp yet generous eye, Buruma explores the moods and sensibilities of the movie business in wartime Shanghai and postwar Tokyo. His novel seems to revel in and see through the filmmaking and its role in shaping memory and history. It's a cinematic story, in topic and form, made richer by the fertile emotional terrain of its fallible protagonists. The China Lover overflows with intriguing characters
. Buruma seems to know every nook and cranny of this landscape
.His novel takes us deep into events of the 20th century and shows us with vivid strokes what it felt like
Los Angeles Times
Lushly informative, cynically interesting.
San Francisco Chronicle
A truly fantastic subject for a novel
New York Observer
In The China Lover, Buruma has captured the mutable contradictions of her life and made from them a kaleidoscope through which to see a giant swathe of 20th- century history from angles you've never viewed it before. It's a dizzying, dazzling experience.
The Seattle Times
Buruma found his perfect subject in Yoshiko Yamaguchi, the nearly forgotten, once controversial Japanese singer and actress turned journalist and politician. The dark deeds of Tokyo gangsters, the endless horror of Hiroshima, the deep wounds of occupation, the sensuous power of film, and the strange circumstances that induced three Japanese gunmen to launch a terrorist attack on the Tel Aviv airportall are facets in Burumas magnificent saga of war and prejudice, beauty and tyranny, sacrifice and survival.
"[The China Lover
's] pleasures derive from its cascading variations on the theme of reinvention, its multiple voices spiraling around the one real "essence" that human animals can claim the capacity for self-transformation, the quest for new selves, the urge to live what can be imagined." Christian Caryl, the New York Review of Books
(read the entire New York Review of Books review
In his enthralling novel, Buruma uses the life of the starlet Yamaguchi Yoshiko as a lens through which to understand the lure of erotic fantasies in the conquest of nations. "The China Lover" reveals the catastrophic results when theater and politics blend in a lethal manner.
From Shanghai before and during the Second World War to U.S.?occupied Tokyo, and, finally, to the Middle East in the early 1970s, Ian Buruma?s masterful new novel about the intoxicating power of collective fantasy follows three star-struck men driven to extraordinary acts by their devotion to the same legendary woman. A beautiful Japanese girl born in Manchuria, Yamaguchi Yoshiko is known as Ri Koran in Japan, Li Xianglan in China, and Shirley Yamaguchi in the U.S.?and her past is a closely guarded secret. In Buruma?s reimagining of the life of Yamaguchi Yoshiko, a Japanese girl torn between patriotism for her parents? homeland, worldly ambition, and sympathy for the Chinese, she will reflect almost exactly the twists and turns in the history of modern Japan. The China Lover is both luminously written and imbued with the insights and erudition that have made Ian Buruma one of the most respected writers on modern Asia.
About the Author
Ian Buruma is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College. His previous books include Gods Dust, Behind the Mask, The Missionary and the Libertine, Playing the Game, The Wages of Guilt, Anglomania, Bad Elements and Murder in Amsterdam, which won a Los Angeles Times Book Prize for the Best Current Interest Book. He was awarded the 2008 Shorenstein Journalism Award, which honored him for his distinguished body of work and the 2008 Erasmus Prize.