By Martin Cruz Smith
Setting & details: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Authenticity of Japanese characters & dialogue: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Translation quality: N/A
Entertainment value: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
My recommendation: This is a fascinating snapshot of life in Japan on the brink of war, told through the eyes of one of the rare foreign residents
Martin Cruz Smith isn’t a Japan expert, but he’s cracking good at spinning a tale, and extraordinarily skilled at recreating historical periods. His writing comes alive from the point of view of outsiders who are insiders, and his meticulous research dresses them in attitudes and the kind of viewpoints that aren’t informed by knowing where they will lead.
Smith is better known for bestsellers like Gorky Park and Havana Bay—historical fiction set in the aftermath of WWII and the Cold War—but in December 6, he turns his eye to the hours before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, capturing a unique moment in time from inside the world of the attacker. We ride along on the shoulder of one of the few foreigners settled in Japan, watching from within as the tiny, insignificant country thrusts itself onto the world stage with one of the most unexpected and audacious moves in military history.
Cruz captures the scurrying of the little people as they disappear into bolt holes, desperately try to get out before the borders close, or look around for ways to capitalize on the coming war.
I’m surprised by the number of readers who mention that their favorite part of The Last Tea Bowl Thief is the section that takes place in wartime Tokyo, but it turns out I’m not the only one who is curious about what the war looked like from the other side. December 6 captures a different slice of Tokyo than The Last Tea Bowl Thief, but it shines a spotlight on equally ordinary people operating on limited information, and trying to guess which way to jump.
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Reviews of more Japan-centric books are in the JAPANAGRAM ARCHIVE
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon
“While The Last Tea Bowl Thief provides an intimate, in-depth exposé of the country’s artistic and emotional life, it never forgets to divert the reader.” —Historical Novel Society