Friday, 6 July 2012

The Blue Door by Lise Kristensen | A Silenced History

Now while my last read was Across the Bridge of Dreams which romanticizes the samurai culture, The Blue Door by Lise Kristensen depicts a very different view of the Japanese. I decided to read it because not a lot of Norwegian authors are represented in my bookshop in Jo'burg, but I think it's actually not available in Norwegian (yet).

The Blue Door moved me deeply. The author Lise Kristensen was born in 1934 in Java, and she narrates what befell her and her family during the second world war. Her family lived a rather easy life in Java before the war. But gradually their carefree existence started changing. One day her father is brutally taken away by Japanese soldiers. Soon after, the women and children are taken away too. Lise along with her mother, sister and brother are transported to a POW camp. Lise's personal hell is about to start.

I expected the starvation, the discomforts, the small space, the diseases. What I didn't see coming was the torture, the brutality, the cruelty, the evil. This is not for the faint-hearted. What the 10-year old Lise sees and experiences is beyond anything I can imagine. They stay in a camp with women and children, yet the Japanese soldiers do not hesitate to torture, rape, taunt, abuse... -All the while saying that the Emperor wants his prisoners to be healthy. I have to admit that this piece of history is unfamiliar to me. Kristensen backs this up in her afterword, saying that Japan has silenced the memory of their POW camps.

Apart from a description of the atrocities Lise, her family and all the other people in the camps had to face, Lise focuses on how they managed to LIVE in this place. Lise realizes that in order not to starve to death, she has to steal whatever she comes across. There are some really fun passages of Lise's escapades in the camps, including some very close calls. The fly hunt is also quite amusing. Lise becomes a very resourceful girl, and she basically takes care of her younger siblings because their mother becomes very ill in the camps.

Kristensen doesn't wallow in self-pity, but she relates how she survived the POW camps, and what impact this experience came to have in her life. She is always reflective, even though her childhood self always wonders why the Japanese soldiers do their evil (or neglecting) deeds. In her afterword she says that writing this book is part of her healing process. That said, she also wanted to prevent this part of the WWII history from being forgotten. I think she does an amazing job of it.

Years ago I read Dessert Exile, an autobiography that deals with the internment of Japanese Americans in America. I think The Blue Door is a sort of antithesis to that. Kristensen has written an important contribution to our collective memory of WWII. The book is deeply moving, but also funny. I recommend it strongly, and I think "everyone" should read it.


Bokelskerinnen said...

Juritzen forlag utgir denne på norsk i høst. Høres ut som en viktig bok å lese :)

Cees Plat ,(netherlands) said...

I just read the book in Dutch So complete! My father was in these camps too when he was child. Very similar stories although he seldom told something.