Wednesday 27 April 2016

The Emperor of Any Place

The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780763669737

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Fascinating from the beginning, this dual point-of-view story is extremely powerful, confronting at times, imaginative, and deeply moving. It has many themes woven into it, the main ones being the futility of war and the chaos it leaves behind, family relationships, love, truth and trust. Presented in precise prose, it’s a book not to be missed.

When Evan’s father dies, the boy discovers an unusual book on his dad’s desk and begins to read. Two parallel stories begin, presented in alternating chapters.

Evan’s narrative is in third person. At seventeen, he is now alone in the world except for his grandfather Griff whom he’s never seen because of a falling out with Evan’s dad. Life-long critical stories heard about Griff from his dad built a bitterness and resentment against the old man in Evan. These negative feelings flare when Griff turns up suddenly. A career soldier, his regimented army life leaves no room for admitting or making mistakes, especially his own. Evan is unaware of the significant role his estranged grandfather will play in his life.

The second story is the one Evan is reading from the book. Written by the Japanese soldier, Isamu Oshiro, it’s told in the immediate first person, and begins in July, 1944. It starts as a journal meant to reach his new wife in the case of his death, but evolves into a continuous confession of love blended with his daily existence on the island.

A third voice, that of American soldier Derwood Kraft, shares Oshiro’s narrative later in the book.
Oshiro makes it to the island he later calls Kokoro-Jima, the Heart-Shaped Island. He is badly wounded and expects to die. But he survives amidst the company of flesh-eating ghouls, kept alive by the sheer will to live and return to his beloved. The island becomes his paradise until Kraft arrives. The two begin as wary enemies struggling to survive, but in fact they have much in common. Here we witness a parallel war to the one raging on the opposite island. This takes place between Kraft and Oshiro’s conscience and soldier’s ethics.

Here is a complex and multi-layered story with many parallels. It is a magnum opus, for the great skill needed to blend the portions of this magnificent creation into a fluid read is evident in the stunning outcome. This is a crossover novel suitable for young adult/adult readers.

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