Review – “December 6,” by Martin Cruz Smith


December 6, Martin Cruz Smith, Simon & Schuster, 2002 – A Review

From time to time a book by a favorite author has ducked around some imaginary corner just as I have finished separating the twelve pounds of ads from the rest of the Sunday newspaper and located the new releases and best sellers sections.  Such is the case with December 6 by Martin Cruz Smith, published in 2002 and plucked from the bookshelf at Storytellers’ Bookstore in Wake Forest, NC eight years later.  Surely the announcement of any new novel by the author of Gorky Park, Stallion Gate, Polar Star, Havana Bay and others was there for me to see, but…better late than not at all.

Shades of James Clavell and Shogun and Noble House and his other wonderful novels about an English pilot (navigator) marooned in Japan when ships were powered with sails only.  December 6 is the story of Harry Niles, son of missionaries, born and raised in Tokyo’s Asakusa section, “…a Japanese boy who pretended to be an American son when his parents visited….”

Hold on for a ride that takes you from Harry’s childhood in 1922 to his ownership of a pub and dance hall in 1941, still in Asakusa, still in Tokyo, with his Japanese mistress as the disc jockey playing Benny Goodman and other American musicians, all the way to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Along the way you are treated to glimpses of Tokyo that only fictional characters could furnish.  Harry must get out of Japan before he is discovered as an American who, while he loves Japan, hates the self destructive and brutal directions the Japanese military are determined to take.

Here are a few short paragraphs that could have been written this morning with updated names and places.   Ishigami, a Japanese Army Colonel back in Tokyo after a few years of slaughtering Chinese, and Harry Niles, in fear of Ishigami’s revenge, have the following exchange:

“The emperor,” Harry prompted Ishigami, “when you saw him, did he say anything?”

“The emperor asked the aides how long a Pacific war would take.  They said three months.   He reminded them that the army had told him four years ago that a war in China would take three months.   The problem is, we have won decisive battle after decisive battle, and nothing is decided.  There are just more Chinese.  Now we would lose too much face to leave.  It would be better to lose to anyone other than China.”

“There’s always the option of sanity, declaring yourself winners and coming home.”

“It would be defeat.  From then on, the hands of America and England would be around our neck.  They could cut off our oil anytime, and we would be beggars.  Better a truly decisive stroke than slow strangulation, don’t you agree?”

The “decisive stroke” was, of course, Pearl Harbor.

An instructor in creative writing once told me that often the only way to tell the truth is with fiction…..

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