Click here to read reviewer Sarah Meador's take on Eight Million Gods and Demons.
Eight Million Gods and Demons is a very personal, passionate novel of a loving family in Japan at a time when the entire country is awakening, flexing its muscle in its determination to be a world power.
Japanese businessman and politician Taku Imura deeply loves his younger wife, Emi, who suffers intermittently from epilepsy. Unfortunately, Taku travels frequently for business, leaving Emi alone for extended periods of time. He nurtures great hopes for Koreaís autonomy, but when Japan colonizes Korea, Taku rages at the government, making enemies with his views. As a result of his opinions, Taku is imprisoned for months by a vengeful politician.
While Taku is incarcerated, his baby son is born and dies before his father ever sees him. The couple has another child after Taku is released from prison, but the newborn daughter also dies while still an infant. Finally, a healthy son is conceived and both parents hover anxiously over the child, yet Taku is absent more and more frequently from their home. By this time, Imura falls victim to the charms of the geisha Hana. He purchases Hanaís contract and buys them a house to share as well. He fathers four healthy children with her. When the frail Emi is overcome by her disease, Taku combines the two households, bringing all his children together under one roof.
The following years see Japan building its military strength as factories are turned over to the production of munitions, the nation's collective eye trained on China as its next acquisition. It is commonly agreed that it is better to conquer China than lose it to the Communists. Beauty and poetry disappear, trampled by jackboots and military necessity.
The five children, Hanaís and Emiís, grow into adults and marry, starting their own families. They maintain their ties with one another and, at this point, the story integrates their personal lives with the changing face of a Japan on the move towards world domination. One of Takuís girls marries an idealistic young soldier in the Imperial army. Each tour of duty drains more life from the young man. Following the rape of Nanking, the soldier is completely changed by what he has witnessed, as well as by his own performance in the service of his country. The brutality visited upon the Chinese remains infamous, but the author seeks to put a more human face on this atrocity, at least in the case of Takuís son-in-law.
After Pearl Harbor, everything changes. The next generation of Imuras endures bombings and wartime conditions and sees their sons inducted into the war. The entire nation is galvanized, desperate to stop the daily progress of the Allies. Industrial and military might, once so coveted, have dragged the country into abject poverty as kamikaze pilots die for the honor of the Emperor.
Sherwinís prose is as elegant and formal as the rituals of feudal Japan, yet she is unflinching in her description of the brutality of war and its absolute destruction. All of the Eight Million Gods and Demons cannot save Japan from the fate it has called upon itself. Yet Sherwin speaks kindly, as if in the telling a lesson may be learned. War, in all its manifestations, has become too familiar, victory hollow when ideals and innocence are betrayed by powerful men too old to fight. Sherwin writes a stunning indictment of war, but her heart is filled with grace and love for the survivors.