August 20, 2008

An Instance of Treason: Ozaki Hotsumi and the Sorge Spy Ring (1964 book)

Revised and expanded in 1990. Written by Chalmers Johnson.

I've spent over two weeks slowly chipping away at this sucker and, sorry to say, I'm at a loss.

Reviewing fiction is easy. Give a synopsis, comment on character arcs and plot structure, concept vs. execution. This comes naturally to me. But what about a non-fiction book? I know, some of you are probably shaking your head and going, "Who is this idiot?" but, truth be told, I really haven't read much non-fiction, let alone reviewed any.

All right. Let's take it one step at a time.

What is the book about?

Hotsumi Ozaki was a Japanese journalist and intellectual activist in the days leading up to WWII. He felt his country should ally itself with the soon-to-revolt China, but was shocked to see Japan instead employ the same brutal, imperialistic tactics the British were just starting to leave behind. So he joined forces with Richard Sorge, a communist spy, in an effort to prevent the situation from further deteriorating into a war with the Soviet Union. He was hanged for his efforts.

How is it written?

Surprisingly well. Most of the non-fiction I've tried is written in a dry, essay format but, while Johnson employs the same methods, this has a surprising amount of depth and insight into the people involved. Thanks to the wealth of written material left behind on Ozaki's part, Johnson is able to firmly dig into his thoughts and feelings, his motives and dreams, making him a fully human, relatable being.

I should make another confession and admit that my knowledge of Asian events leading to WWII is minuscule. This book really opened my eyes to the political complexities of both China and Japan, and the mutual revolutions of each.

Final thoughts?

This is really good. I'm not saying everyone should run out and snatch up a copy but, if you're in the mood for a good espionage story, or an analysis of pre-WWII Asia, or the tragedy of an intellectual with beliefs ahead of his time, it's well worth tracking down.

There. That wasn't so bad. It's not one of my best reviews and certainly doesn't do the book justice, but it'll have to do.


Anthony Williams said...

Japan but no Ninjas? Russia but no Firefox? Bah :p!

Seriously, it is amazing how many stories of this type slip through the cracks of history.

NoelCT said...

Nope, neither Ninjas nor Firefoxi. But we do get a slew of mistresses and a Russian agent who almost blows his cover when he gets drunk and crashes a motorcycle.

You're right. It's astonishing how many little nuggets of history are out there begging to be shared before they fade into oblivion. It's one of the reasons I love HISTORY DETECTIVES on PBS. You never know what they'll dig up.