Zone of Emptiness by the Japanese novelist Hiroshi Noma, after years of military censorship, was both shocking and widely praised when it was published as Shinkū chitai in 1952.  Like e e cummings’ 1922 The Enormous Room, it is a war novel with no scenes of war.  Like From Here to Eternity (1951), much of the narrative is about prison and army cruelty, arbitrary orders and men going against the grain.

Published in 1952 as Shinkū chitai, and translated into French as Zone de vide by Henreitte de Boissel, that French edition was translated into English by Bernard Frechtman and published by World Publishing Co, in Chicago, 1958.  While a translation of a translation is not auspicious there were few times where I thought meaning was disturbed.  Felicity, perhaps, but since the original Japanese would have had structural and grammatical variance from most western writing, I’m not sure that a direct translation into English would have been able to avoid some of the style and structural choices.  It is quite readable, though culture and behavior of the characters, make an easy, engaged reading just out of reach.

The story takes place in a large war-time army camp near Osaka, Japan (Honshu Island) where recruits to Fourth-Year soldiers, along with NCOs and officers,  are in various stages of training, rehabilitation and being shipped out.  Newspaper accounts alert one of the men of the Allied invasion of Italy, September, 1943, so the novel, taking place over a week or two, is in that time frame.  No American bombing of Osaka has yet taken place yet.  That would start in February 1945.  The Battle of Midway (4-7 June, 1942) and Japanese evacuation from Guadalcanal (February 1943) had already happened, however, and was known despite censorship.  Discouragement and doubt are seeping into the men. Continue reading »

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