Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Living With the Enemy: A Diary of the Japanese Occupation" by Pacita-Pestano-Jacinto

Welcome to Students from the University of The Philippines-

Living With the Enemy:   A Diary of the Japanese Occupation by Pacita Pesttano-Jacinto (2002, 246 pages-Anvil Publishing-Manila)

Living With the Enemy: A Diary of the Japanese Occupation deserves to be a world wide best seller with a million copies sold.   Pacita Pesttano-Jacinto was 25 years old when the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941.   She had recently graduated from college and married a doctor from a very good family.   She had a lovely house in a beautiful part of Manila.    One day she heard on the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.    Then they began to bomb the Philippines and shortly after their troops entered the northern provinces of the Philippines.    The cruelty of the Japanese invading force was beyond the human.    The Philippines was a very peaceful country.   If ever there was unprovoked attack on an innocent country this was it.   The rationale of the Japanese was that they were "liberating" the Philippines from the control of the Americans.  
Pacita Pesttano-Jacinto does a simply marvelous job in detailing the changes that come for the people of Manila as the Japanese take over.    All citizens are required to bow  when they pass in front of a Japanese.   When they fail to bow with the proper attitude of humility, they are slapped in the face.   Soon the Japanese begin to take over the best houses for their troops, then they begin to take all the horses, and as time went on they took even the healthy dogs to be trained as attack animals.   Some of the residents of Manila reacted in heroic ways, some became collaborators.    If you read this book,  you will not be so quick to judge those who cooperated with the Japanese as in many cases it was the only way to keep their families alive.    Pacita Pesttano-Jacinto tells us how the prices of common items, even the staple rice, go way up.    She shows what it is like to live in a climate of fear.   Through out the years (the diary is from December 10, 1942 to Feb. 24, 1945) the thing that keeps the people going is the belief that the Americans will return, the faith in the promise of Douglas MacArthur to return.    The Japanese propaganda ministry works over time to try to get the Filipino people to see themselves as part of a new Asian partnership  run by the Japanese for purely altruistic reasons.   The Filipinos have to act as if they agreed with this or face torture or worse.    Government employees are sent to giant rallies where they scream in joy over the speeches of the Japanese.    Venal politicians emerge to be puppet rulers but there are also great and courageous leaders.
Some of the diary is the day to day life of the family.    Some is a detailing of the activities of the Japanese and their extreme cruelties.    Pacita Pesttano-Jacinto writes in a simple beautiful style of a person who may have never heard when she wrote this a native speaker of English.   Her family is lucky in that the Japanese respect doctors and they also need Filipino doctors to tend their wounded.    We get to see how people try to make the best of their lives.   We see a simple house boy grow into a hero.   The goodness, the faith in God, and the family bonds of the Filipino people comes through wonderfully in this book.    Japanese are depicted as inhuman monsters and one can hardly blame Pacita Pesttano-Jacinto  for that.   I knew how the diary would end, of course, and I knew Pacita Pesttano-Jacinto survives the war but it was still very exciting and somehow even suspenseful to await the return of the Americans.    The sadness parts of the diary are near the end.   As the Americans begin to take back Manila and the Japanese know they will lose they make it their goal to kill all of the 500,000 residents of Manila.   They begin to machine gun people at random, they have snipers throughout the city shooting people for no reason other than blood lust.  
There are many poignant moments in the diary.   I reacted with true sorrow when I read of a 16 year old Filipino girl who was impregnated during a group rape by Japanese soldiers.   Even the counsel of her priests and supportive family cannot stop her from suicide.   I had my wife read the entry from October 15, 1944 (she is from Zambales in northern Luzon one of the most brutalized areas of the Philippines at the time of the invasion ).
The streets are full of starving people who swarm the gates of the houses insistently, desperately begging for rice, for a little soup, for crumbs, for anything.   Even during the air raids, while planes fly overhead and bombs shake the earth, this starving army of beggars patrol the streets dragging themselves and their starved bodies from door to door, unaware of possible death from the skies, aware only of the pain of the hunger gnawing at their entrails.
My wife was so effected by this passage she could not read on in the diary past this one entry.   Here is an entry from Feb 8, 1945 (near the end for the Japanese in Manila):

Americans themselves say nothing will remain of our beloved city.   The Japanese have gone on an orgy of savage burning...The Japanese cornered have turned on 500,000 civilians.  The American soldier says "I am used to deaths and killing but my flesh creeps when I remember what I have seen".  He said the acrid smell of burning flesh rises from high in the winds, that the streets are littered with he dead.

This maybe difficult to read but here is what the mother of a six year old boy experienced as they ran from the fires being set by the Japanese (they forced the citizens to remain in the buildings when  they set them on fire):

Then from the shadows of a fallen wall, they saw a figure detach itself.  The woman must have seen it too.   They heard her scream in terror and run.   But she was too late.   As she fell, they saw the Japanese soldier run forward and with his bayonet, strike the child upwards, lifting him from the ground, implanted like meat on a butcher's knife
.Living With the Enemy: A Diary of the Japanese Occupation  is a very honest diary and shows great emotional and political intelligence.   Anyone interested in the history of the Philippines in World War II would like this book, I think, and learn from it.  I know I did.   It will be hard for anyone out side of the Philippines to get a copy.  

Everyday there are fewer people  left with living memories of World War II.   I hope anyone who has a family member or a friend with such memories will take the time to hear their stories as they will all be gone soon.   So far I have posted on two other books by Filipino authors on the world war II experience.   I recommend   Living with the Enemy:   A Diary of the Japanese Occupation with no reservations or qualms at all.   I know it will never be on the N Y Times best seller list but it deserves to be.

Mel u


Suko said...

This sounds like an incredibly moving book, painful to read but very worthwhile. Thank you for an excellent review.

me. said...

Many thanks for this review.

Mel u said...

Suko-yes is painful to read but great book

me. you are welcome as always

Anna said...

Sounds like a heart-breaking but important book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

I've linked to your review on the Book Reviews: WWII page on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I haven't heard of this book before although I know of several books about the Japanese occupation of Asia. I haven't been able to work up the courage to read them yet, but I will. It's always hard to hear about the brutalities your country has commited, even if it isn't the only country to do so. But I also think it's important to face up to what actually happened and not brush it under the carpet and hope it all dies down. We owe it to the people who survived.

Carin said...

This book sounds fantastic. I read The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose after the HBO Mini-series came out. The stuff about the Philippines was some of my favorite parts of the book. I never knew what really happened in the Philippines because the European war in WWII gets so much more attention here in the U.S. I am fascinated by the Pacific War. The Filipino people really had such strength of character and spirit in WWII. Really amazing people. I will try to find this here, but if I can't I'm just happy that I read your review of it!