The China Lover: A Novel

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Overview

"In her earliest days Ri Koran - a Japanese girl born in Manchuria who sang and acted in Japanese and Chinese - was forced to keep her Japanese identity a secret, to become a Manchurian singer and movie star playing Chinese beauties who fell in love with brave Japanese empire builders. In Tokyo, she returned to the screen as Yoshiko Yamaguchi, starring in films approved by American censors and designed to promote American style democracy." Before long, she decided to reinvent herself yet again by moving to the United States. Three months after
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2008 Hard cover First edition. 1st Printing New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 392 p. Audience: General/trade.

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Overview

"In her earliest days Ri Koran - a Japanese girl born in Manchuria who sang and acted in Japanese and Chinese - was forced to keep her Japanese identity a secret, to become a Manchurian singer and movie star playing Chinese beauties who fell in love with brave Japanese empire builders. In Tokyo, she returned to the screen as Yoshiko Yamaguchi, starring in films approved by American censors and designed to promote American style democracy." Before long, she decided to reinvent herself yet again by moving to the United States. Three months after Japan and the United States signed a peace treaty in San Francisco, Yamaguchi rededicated herself to pursuing a career in American movies, this time as Shirley Yamaguchi, playing exotic Japanese beauties who fall in love with American soldiers. But she was not just the subject of male fantasies on the cinema screen. She married the Japanese-American sculptor Isarnu Noguchi, who wanted her to he the perfect traditional Japanese woman. When her many roles, in life and in film, proved impossible to reconcile, Shirley left Noguchi, retired as an actress, and married a promising young Japanese diplomat.
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Editorial Reviews

Wendy Law-Yone
In a rare departure from his books and critical essays on film, politics, culture and current events, Buruma, a distinguished journalist-scholar and Japanophile, has crafted in The China Lover a fascinating fictional biography—not only of an iconic film star, but of film as an expression of a nation's culture and psyche. How fitting that he has put into practice at least two of the techniques of Japanese movie-making he mentions: "keeping a distance even in scenes of great emotion" and leaving things "open-ended, like life."
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Award-winning journalist Buruma (God's Dust) here turns to fiction, tracing the career of starlet Yamaguchi Yoshiko, a Japanese citizen born in the Chinese province of Manchuria, then occupied by Japan. Keeping her identity a secret, she plays a Chinese actress, goes to the United States after the war to make films, and eventually becomes a TV journalist in the Middle East. Part 1 is narrated by an American homosexual who befriends Yoshiko, Part 2 by an adoptive Japanese uncle, and Part 3 by a Japanese who follows her to Beirut. This story, grounded in the history of the various eras, is like a stew into which the chef has thrown so many ingredients we lose track of how it's meant to taste. Because so much is told to us-only occasionally do we overhear the characters interacting-the book reads less like a novel than a memoir or other nonfiction account, with often too much detail to absorb. Recommended for fiction collections where interest in the Far East and Middle East is strong. [See Prepub Alert, LJ6/15/08.]
—Edward Cone

Kirkus Reviews
An enigmatic real-life Sino-Japanese film star, Ri Koran, remains a cipher after three self-absorbed narrators fail to illuminate her, in the latest from Buruma (Journalism/Bard Coll.; Murder in Amsterdam, 2006, etc.). Buruma has written nonfiction works on China, Japan and jihadism. He displays his erudition on all three topics in this novel. The narrators of the book's three sections-a homosexual American censor, Vanoven, stationed in postwar Tokyo; Sato Daisuke, a talent agent/private eye in Japanese-occupied Manchuria; and a screenwriter (also surnamed Sato) who joins the '70s-era Japanese Red Army movement-track Ri's serpentine CV through the thick, sometimes opaque, scrim of their own preoccupations. Born Yamaguchi Yoshiko in Manchuria to a Japanese couple, Ri was educated in Chinese private schools. Gifted with soulful eyes and a soprano to match, Ri passes as Chinese and stars in the film China Nights. The movie-and Ri-come to symbolize Japan's efforts, while invading China and installing a puppet empire in Manchuria, to couch its imperialistic agenda in pan-Asian peace platitudes. After World War II, Ri renounces her Chinese persona and seeks fame as a Hollywood and Tokyo movie actress. When her marriage and career in Tokyo fall apart, due to a U.S.-sanctioned regime change reinstating war criminals, Ri reinvents herself as a TV journalist and host of a housewife-targeted news show. She hires young Sato, former crewmember on pornographic pinku films turned TV news-writer turned Japanese student militant and Palestinian sympathizer. Old Sato's section, mostly set in Manchuria, detracts most from the novel's focus. His story lingers on his obsession with another Yoshiko, across-dressing siren whose treachery nets him a prison stay and torture. Vanoven, though an engaging confidant, fails to vivify Ri as a protagonist. Young Sato morphs into a Palestinian martyr/hero and Ri gets lost in the ensuing Kamikaze parallels. Ri's incessant networking question-is someone "knowable?"-applies mainly to herself in this absorbing but decidedly un-novelistic portrayal of cross-cultural adventurers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594201943
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 9/18/2008
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Ian Buruma is currently Luce Professor at Bard College. His previous books include God's Dust, Behind the Mask, The Missionary & The Libertine, Playing the Game, The Wages of Guilt, Anglomania, and Bad Elements. He writes frequently for The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and the Financial Times.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2009

    Thin on Chinese culture; odd book

    I must say, I really didn't care for this book. It is told by three different individuals, which was confusing. However, my biggest disapointment was the lack of Chinese culture given. I felt far too much attention was given to the individuals who were telling the story...and some of the attention given to their backgrounds was unenjoyable.

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