Lieutenant Kurosawa’s Errand Boy
This story of the lives of Nanban, Kurosawa, Papatti and her family, and the Japanese who took over Singapore during WWII focuses on victors and victims. Think there’s nothing new here? Wrong! Nanban is a 12-year-old Tamil child who attracts Lieutenant Kurosawa’s interest. At first, his is a horrific tale of constant fear of doing the wrong thing and being subjected to cane beatings. Then, in an enigmatic fashion, it becomes much worse as his mentor insists on teaching Nanban to read and do martial arts exercises, and then he is forced to mete out brutal punishments on errant Japanese soldiers. The death of Nanban’s father turns the young boy into a feral hater.
Twenty years after the war we meet Papatti, a young girl who hungers to be loved, accepted and even admired. Failing to succeed in school, she instead becomes one of the best seamstresses in her town and eventually becomes duped into working with and eventually marrying the upcoming town assemblyman. In that time, Papatti becomes smarter and more dignified as she realizes the tool she has become; however, her trusting nature is a moving element of the reader’s desire for her to succeed.
Years and years later, the former Lieutenant Kurosawa is haunted by guilt for his acts during the war and seeks repentance and reconciliation. The end of the war in Nagasaki and Kurosawa’s hometown Hiroshima propels his unremitting shame. This story is written as if the two plotlines are occurring concurrently, deliberately paced to force the reader to question the timeline of history and the movements of victor and vanquished over a 60-year period. Remarkable historical fiction!