Under the Sun is set in the closing stages of World War Two in the South Pacific. Flight Lieutenant Edward Strickland is a young RAF Spitfire pilot flying sorties over the Carolines and their outlying atolls. On a dawn patrol he is shot down attacking a submarine and ends up on a remote island occupied by a small Japanese garrison, that has remained undetected throughout the war. The garrison’s commander Captain Tadashi Hayama brutally interrogates his captive and a battle of wills develops between the two men. The scene is set for a contest where there will only be one victor. But events take an unexpected turn and the island becomes, for a while, a kind of Eden. The war is a distant memory that has no relevance to the rhythms and echoes of island life. Yet beyond its shores danger lurks and Japan’s capitulation after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leads to a climactic end that shatters the idyll forever.
Japan is a country that has long fascinated me and I still that one day I will get there. I was very pleased therefore to be given this book for a review and ‘the booktrail treatment.’
This was not only a book based in Japan but one which captivates the story of an extraordinary relationship between a captive and his captor – a Spitfire pilot and a Samurai commander.
This is an engaging tale – a meeting of two souls played out against an isolated island background during WW2. The war and the island are also characters in the novel however in the ways they highlight the plight and situation of the two men:
Strickland surveyed his surroundings and looking up, he saw the mountain rise above the green mantle of forest. – page 79
Theirs is a relationship which goes through many stages – it may start off as a simple captor – captive one but is soon found to be one built on mutual mistrust leavened with soldierly respect, through companionship, to the eventual life-affirming understanding and friendship.
The language of this book is quite lyrical in its descriptions of issues of war and the nature of war, of faith and the underlying human spirit. How the bud of humanity can flourish in the most inhospitable soil conditions:
Whether you are inside the punishment box or here on the island, you are still under my command. I have simply decided to grant you your freedom. – page 65
Sometimes it is the language which gives the story its most powerful thread – the simple, lyrical and soft language is at odds with its subject matter.
The forest was quiet. Only the cicadas stirred occasionally in the stillness. their rhythmic music was like a narcotic and soon the pilot was asleep – page 77
The Japanese language plays a part too in the novel when Strickland realises he knows nothing of the language and culture of Japan yet knows about its weapons and its planes. Hayama even teaches him a little Japanese and jokes that he will be learning it in no time. Hayama also teaches him about their culture – how to pour Sake for example and in a little ceremony, in such a unique situation, it is quite surreal and poignant to see the importance of pride and culture in this situation.
It is not despite the subject matter,a story of war but rather a story of two very different men from very different backgrounds and cultures in one war time situation. It is an exploration of their minds and who and what they are and it is this I believe that the author most shines due to the research he must have done to achieve this.
There was one line in the book that sums up war, the spirit of man and the finality of death where man and his environment become one:
Man, for all his toil and struggle, was merely dust – page 56
We are all essentially the same – thrown together in extreme circumstances. The power of what we do and who we are whilst on this earth is what ‘Under the Sun’ is all about and what it illustrates so well.