First things first—the book, the physical book, has some problems: what appears, to me, as occasionally awkward translation and very unfortunate copy-editing. I wanted to get that off my chest each of those problems bugged me right from the beginning. I soldiered on, but the experience of reading was tainted. ‘Nuff said.
It’s almost impossible to say much about Patriotism without spoilers. If you’ve read the title description you know what those are and shouldn’t be surprised by anything that follows. Just in case: This review contains spoilers!
Patriotism, for me, is one of those confused and confusing concepts that many equate simply with ‘love of country’ (which would, I suppose, be fine) but often takes the form of an ugly nationalism, which in my opinion, has never been merited—by any country, at any time. While it’s one thing to stand misty-eyed, with hand over heart, as the flag passes by, remembering (or fantasizing about) what one regards as the best of one’s country’s finest attributes and history, it’s quite another thing to ignore the attributes and history which don’t adhere to one’s mythology. I must make the distinction in my mind and explicitly, as it seems too few do and the one trait frequently poses as the other. Patriotism is that ‘virtue’ we have (and those cute foreigners with whom we get along), while ‘nationalism’ is the domain of the evil. It equates, roughly, with the notion that only other people’s religions are superstitions.
For the sake of clarity, I do not regard Patriotism as a virtue, and that had something to do with putting off the reading of this novella as the title created approach/avoidance conflict within me. Moving on.The novella presents the story of the final two days in the lives of Shinji and Reiko Takeyama. Their love for each other, and respect for each other, and devotion to each other seem absolute, honorable, moving. For me, it is within that context the story works best. Shinji, however, is not a character with whom everyone will be able to identify—especially, given that his decision to commit suicide is not due to personal disgrace, but rather because friends had committed mutiny against his country. He knew he wouldn’t be able to fight them, they were his friends, and he knew he was opposed to their rebellion, so the solution to his dilemma is…suicide (?). I know, I know, time and place—time, place, and tradition—still. That was, for me, the least compelling aspect of the novella. On the other hand, Reiko— Any sensitive (sympathetic) reading demands a qualified appreciation of Reiko. No, she’s not a feminist hero. Her motivation is honorable—in spite of the superstition (accompanying her husband on his next adventure). Their love for each other is believable. Can’t ask for more than that.
Four stars—because I can’t do more, and won’t do fewer. Grizzly. Probably not best read while depressed.