The Forgiving Kind

Asian literature on World War II hardly brims with sympathetic images of Japanese soldiers, and that makes Indonesian writer Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana's 1978 epic Defeat and Victory something of a cultural curiosity. The Japanese translation earned its author the Order of Sacred Treasure, but with its first English rendition a wider audience has the opportunity to absorb its tragedy and romance.

The protagonist, Hidayat, is a Jakartan intellectual caught up in the Japanese occupation. The conquerors use Bahasa Indonesia, the archipelago's lingua franca, as an administrative tongue in their polyglot...

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