Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Booknote: Adolf: a Tale of the Twentieth Century

Osamu Tezuka, Adolf: a Tale of the Twentieth Century. San Francisco, CA: Cadence Books, 1995. ISBN: 1-56931-058-0. 

This is the first volume of a series of five. I will be reviewing them as I read them. Osamu Tezuka's series Adolf is the story of three men named Adolf, one of them being the German Fuhrer. The first volume presents the start of the story. The story begins at the eve of the Second World War as Germany and Japan are rising to power. As the story starts, Sohei Toge, a survivor as he tells us, begins to tell us the story of three men linked by a single twist of fate. From there, our story begins. While in Germany, one Adolf is rising to power, seen in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. In Japan, two boys, one the son of a German diplomat and Nazi married to a Japanese woman and the other a German Jewish boy whose family lives in Japan, become best friends in spite of the odds.

The story starts with a murder mystery. Sohei Toge is a Japanese reporter for Kyogo News Agency covering the Olympics in Berlin. His brother, an exchange student in Germany, is murdered. Sohei can't let it go as it becomes clear to him the Nazis killed his brother, likely because the brother may have been a communist.  In Japan, a geisha is murdered, and local police suspect a member of the German embassy. From there, Tezuka begins to weave a complex and very interesting story that pulls you in.

Though this is fiction, Tezuka incorporates history as well as his own experience (he was a young man in World War II, studying medicine). In addition to the very solid story, you get a very unique perspective on the war and its history. For instance, I learned that though Japan and Germany were allies, Japan did not embrace the anti-Semitism of the Germans. So Jews could go and be (relatively) safe in Japan, at least in the early years. They had thriving communities there. This is not a part of history you hear very often in most history books and documentaries, and I found it interesting. Tezuka is also strong in characterization. Every character here has complexity, and they can have their good and bad moments, both villains and heroes.

This series came out in the late 1980s, but it is new to me. The books won the Kodansha Manga Award in 1986. It was also one of the first mangas published as a deluxe hardcover and sold as literature, not just in manga stores. The edition I read of this first volume is a paperback edition, which came out in 1995. I am glad I discovered the series, and I will continue reading it. So far, it is very good.

I am giving it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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