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Tokyo Year Zero    by David Peace Amazon.com order for
Tokyo Year Zero
by David Peace
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Vintage, 2008 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

David Peace's Tokyo Year Zero is a hard book to review. It takes place in 1946, just one year after the Japanese surrender after World War II. The bodies of raped and beaten young women - or their skeletal remains - have been found in and around Tokyo. Having very little to work with, Detective Minami doggedly follows clues as they are unearthed, not only trying to discover who killed them but also who the girls were. This trail leads him to the countryside where he feels that his superiors don't want his return.

What is most poignant about the novel is the condition the country is in following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the eventual surrender. Memories are hard to shake and the task of daily living proves insurmountable for many. Minami battles for recognition of his theories, while his superiors seem ready to sweep the murders under the rug - and while he also battles to keep his family and his mistress fed and cared for.

What is hypnotic about Tokyo Year Zero is that the reader lives within Minami's mind his very thoughts as well as the sounds he hears ton-ton, the sound of hammering; potsu-potsu, the dripping of water; gari-gari, the sound of his incessant scratching at mosquitoes and lice. He rails at his superiors in his mind, but bows and scrapes when they demand it. It seems as though he is alone in his quest to bring the girls' bodies or bones back to their families so they can have peace at last.

The American occupation is also dwelt upon. The mindset of the occupying forces cannot have been placid, to say the least. They were in the country of the vanquished, who were responsible for the deaths and maiming of many of their fellow soldiers. Hard to be compassionate. But to the other side, they must have seemed like marauders. Minami's mindset deteriorates slowly as he tries to do his job. No wonder.

Tokyo Year Zero is not easy to read but hard to put down. To see the aftermath of a war through both the victors' eyes, as well as those of the defeated, is unique. Note that the murders are the work of a real-life man who did indeed kill ten young women and paid for his crimes. I recommend this novel to you.

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