Books: Over the Brink

FIRES ON THE PLAIN (246 pp.)—Shohei Ooka—Knopf ($3.50).

Running from the sound of the exploding grenade, Private Tamura felt a fragment rip his shoulder and saw the gouged chunk of his own flesh lying on the ground. He picked it up, wiped it clean and popped it into his mouth. He was that hungry and, besides, "There could certainly be nothing wrong in eating my own flesh."

For those who can take that grisly moment in stride, Fires on the Plain will not seem unbearable; it is a painful book to read, but rewardingly so. Unlike most of the Japanese novels that have...

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