Fires on the Plain

by Shohei Ooka

Other authorsIvan Morris (Translator)
Paperback, 1969





Penguin Books (1969)


"Written with precise skill and beautifully controlled power. The translation by Ivan Morris is outstanding." --The New York Times **Winner of the 1952 Yomiuri Prize** This haunting novel explores the complete degradation and isolation of a man by war.Fires on the Plain is set on the island of Leyte in the Philippines during World War II, where the Japanese army is disintegrating under the hammer blows of the American landings. Within this broader disintegration is another, that of a single human being, Private Tamura. The war destroys each of his ties to society, one by one, until Tamura, a sensitive and intelligent man, becomes an outcast. Nearly losing the will to survive, he hears of a port still in Japanese hands and struggles to walk through the American lines. Unfazed by danger, he welcomes the prospect of dying, but first, he loses his hope, and then his sanity. Lost among his hallucinations, Tamura comes to fancy himself an angel enjoined by God to eat no living thing--but even angels fall. Tamura is never less than human, even when driven to the ultimate sin against humanity. Shocking as the outward events are, the greatness of the novel lies in its uplifting vision during a time of crushing horror. As relevant today as when it was originally published,Fires on the Plain will strike a chord with anyone who has lived through the horrors of war.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member stretch
A desperate Japanese army on a small Island in the Philippines, resorts to abandoning members of their own in a last-ditch effort to strengthen their ranks before the inevitable invasion. Private Tamura is one of these soldiers left to fend for himself, unable to return to his unit and unable to “pay” for treatment at the army hospital. Private Tamura is left to wander Leyte Island with neither a reason to live nor a reason to die. The instinct to survive is a powerful pull that lead Tamura to commit a cardinal sin against humanity.

Ooka's account of a starving Japanese soldiers attempt to rationalize and come to terms with the horrors of war that are all around him is both powerful and poetic. In utter isolation Ooka takes Tamura remains on the edge on insanity, allowing him explore the depths of despair to the simple joys of nature in same calm reasoning, giving Tamura's insights both beauty and terror. Even in his struggles to discern the differences between God and himself, Tamura is never too far from the logic and reasoning that forces him to survive his decent into hell
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LibraryThing member azfad
powerful and shocking account of a japanese soldier adrift in the phillipines at the end of world war 2. also contains the memorable phrase 'ambiguous underpants'.
LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
The end of World War II is approaching, and the Americans have arrived on the island of Leyte in the Phillipines. The Japanese are fleeing to the west coast in hopes of being evacuated. Tamura was separated from his unit when he could no longer carry his weight foraging for food due to his illness. He is sent away, with one grenade to kill himself with, if he can't find a hospital unit to take him in.

As he travels, Tamura sinks deeper into degradation and madness. He cannot decide whether he prefers to live or to die; sometimes he cannot decide whether he is alive or dead. He wonders if there is a God, and if there is, where that God has gone:

'Why, when after all these years I had again been stirred by religious feelings and even been drawn to them by this village, should I have been forced to see only the mangled corpses of my fellow soldiers and the tortured body of Jesus painted by some unskillful artist? Was it fate that had contrived this cruel jest, or did the fault lie within myself?'

While this is an anti-war novel, and there are graphic scenes of death and destruction, the novel's focus is the philosophical and existential exploration by one soldier trying to determine his place in the world.
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