Taken Captive: A Japanese POW’s Story, by Ooka Shohei, translated and edited by Wayne P. Lammers, John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York, 1996, $27.50.
Taken Captive is one part description of an American prisoner of war camp for Japanese prisoners in World War II, one part description of Japanese POWs’ behavior (both toward their American keepers and one another), and two parts analysis of–and even agonizing over–the first two parts. While the latter characteristic of the book may stem from the difficulty in interpreting a literary work from one language to another, it throws into stark contrast the differences between Western and Eastern cultural values and thoughts.
Somehow, Ooka Shohei makes his 10-month stint as a prisoner of war read like a lifetime. No doubt that’s how long it seemed to him and his fellow POWs. And when Ooka ponders his and his countrymen’s psyches, it is likely to seem that long to the general reader as well. Taken Captive is short on Japanese-American interplay and long on Nipponese self-analysis–and self justification, though Ooka writes as if oblivious to this latter “flaw” in his masterpiece.
Taken Captive will probably not hold the interest of casual readers of World War II history. It references no battles or strategies but instead describes the desperate plight of ill-prepared soldiers sent to fight to the death with no heavy weapons, scant ammunition and insufficient food. The book focuses almost entirely on Japanese social and military hierarchies and the pressures placed on those structures by the leveling conditions of a POW camp. Lammers’ translation makes this an easily readable book, and because of its unique subject matter, Taken Captive would make a valuable addition to any World War II history collection.