the guardian Fri 11 September 2009
Tokyo in 1940 is no place for a young poet who fancies himself as a Japanese Rimbaud. Family connections and a weak constitution have so far saved Yuji Takano from military service, allowing him instead to play the flâneur with his Francophile friends and to complain about his father cutting off his allowance while others are moulded into unthinking patriots and sent to fight the Chinese. Andrew Miller evokes the intimate internal world of Yuji and his family, beset by the grief already caused by the death of an older brother in the earthquake of 1923, and contrasts them with the coarser public emotions demanded by a society heading for war. Yuji focuses on snow settling on his bicycle saddle "like a perfect scoop of sugar" and the beguiling western freshness of Alissa, the daughter of his French teacher, while Miller details conventional middle-class Tokyo life with such intricacy that it is something of a relief when larger events outside Yuji's carefully constructed self-image forcefully intrude and reveal the irony of his pose.