Cage on the Sea

Written by Giles Murra (trans.) Kaoru Ohno
Review by Viviane Crystal

Just before the end of WWII in 1944, a group of Japanese soldiers from three Japanese ships wound up stranded on the island of Anatahan (one of the Mariana Islands near Saipan) after American air attacks. The United States discovered their presence on the island after the war ended; they attempted to drop leaflets on the island about the end of the war, and even tried to land on the island to rescue the Japanese inhabitants. But the Americans were repelled with the sole weapons remaining to the holdouts. In this novel, as the American military plans to bomb Anatahan, one American officer, Johnson, believes he can use “persuasion” to save these stalwart Japanese soldiers from a horrible, unnecessary death.

This is the story of the Japanese soldiers and how they survived on the island, their rescue by Johnson’s efforts, and the ultimate story of how they survived the war. It’s a fascinating tale as one enters the world of these soldiers and the native people around them, with their clashing personalities, their frequent movements and skills to obtain food and avoid injuries and illness, their fights and even murders, and the presence of a Japanese woman, Kazuko Higa, whose pivotal influence is depicted gradually in a way the reader never expects. Cage on the Sea is an awesome read as one learns of the immense respect for the emperor that kept these men strong, juxtaposed with the survival needs exceeding some of the harshest reality shows one can imagine. Strong, realistic, patriotic historical fiction on so many levels! Highly recommended.