Before World War II, the island of Okinawa was a world of quiet fishing communities, modest homes, and Goju Ryu Karate. The hero of this novel, Kenichi, first sees Chojun Miyagi, the master who founded Goju Ryu, standing on a beach testing his strength against an incoming typhoon; thus from the beginning Chojun is a force of nature. Kenichi devotes his life thereafter to achieving this discipline.
He needs it. First the militaristic Japanese Empire and then the collapse of that Empire in the worst war in history strip both Chojun and Kenichi down to their cores. For both men, their practice of Goju Ryu, both a physical and a spiritual discipline, keep them whole as their world shatters.
Powell is a karate master himself, and he expresses this way of life with authority and love. The devastation of Okinawa’s traditional way of life and its replacement with a shoddy foreign implantation of bars, whores and Spam are glimpses of a history most of us see only from the American side. It’s no accident that the guru in the movie Karate Kid was named Mr. Miyagi. But the real Mr. Miyagi seems to have been much more than a film star: he shows us how to stand with honor against the ineluctable typhoons of reality.