Friday, November 20, 2009

Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

Jake Adelstein is some kind of guy. This story is as much about him as it is about the sex industry in Tokyo. I mean, really, what kind of guy would have the hutzpah to study Japanese and then apply to be a newspaper journalist at the most prestigious newspaper in Japan? He downplays but admits to crushing difficulties, at least difficulties that would crush most of us. But perhaps you've met his kind--bold, bright, talkative, confident, curious, unimpressable. I have. I just never thought we'd get to see inside the head of one as much as we do in this revealing memoir about his work for the newspaper, working closely with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department to uncover crimes in "vice." Not only do we learn how newspapers work in Japan, we learn a bit about how the police works, how the sex industry works, and finally, how the gangsters, or yakuza work. This is an Iron and Silk for grownups. Total immersion into an Asian culture and well-written enough to serve as an introduction to outsiders.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Blood River by Tim Butcher

What is it with me and muggy, hot, equatorial places and rivers? Like the book The Lost City of Z by David Grann, Blood River recounts the tale of Tim Butcher's crazy obsession to the trace the routes of a great explorer, Stanley in this case, through the Congo. While the rest of the world has become more accessible in the past half century, these two equatorial locales on different continents show that winning a battle (finding a route, establishing a forward post, or even building a city) is not winning a war (creating a functioning state). Vegetation has reclaimed much of the railway in the Congo, and once busy trading hubs have fallen into disrepair with no functioning services. Rule of law is unknown. Despair is endemic.

In a way, the Congo may be a perfect example of how bad things can get when a state goes so wrong that great wealth of a few is squandered in the face of the unbounded poverty of the majority. And the resources are there for everyone to share in the future. All I could think was to have millions and millions of people descend on the Congo at once--the equivalent of holding a thrashing baby to silence it--and rock it into silence, until it unclenched enough to learn and notice there might be a better way to get what one needs. It is a terrible waste. Mankind is not always to be admired. We need to find a way to bring out the best in the Congo.