This complex exquisitely written novel concerns both cultural/racial exile and universal experiences of emotional exile. It raises numerous human and moral issues: how the need for acceptance generates a pressure to conform that may ultimately be dehumanizing; how the brutality of war creates enormous moral dilemmas, where the horrors experienced and the decisions that are made may destroy the capacity to make emotional attachments; how parent-child relationships are inevitably affected by past trauma. The relationship of father and daughter is beautifully drawn and depicts powerfully how self-destructive and yet brave a troubled adolescent can be.
From its retrospective stance the novel can ask moral questions with the benefit of hindsight, yet it confronts us with the need to address those same questions in the here and now. Interestingly, the protagonist, Hata, is known locally as "Doc" and although he never tries to pass himself off as a physician, this pseudo-doctor designation is emblematic of the facade which is his life. It is metaphor also for the imperfect moral choices that Hata makes. In the end, Hata's willingness to let the past surface and disturb the present is what redeems him and allows him to re-establish emotional connection.
I will be teaching this novel in the Fall of 2008.