The Twilight World

Penguin Pr. Jun. 2022. 144p. ISBN 9780593490266. $25. F
DEBUTHerzog is internationally acclaimed as a maker of films peopled by obsessive characters struggling in wild, uncontrollable settings (Fitzcarraldo comes to mind). Herzog’s first novel is no different. Lt. Hiroo Onoda, an obedient Japanese soldier, survives in the Philippine jungle as he continues to fight a war that ended 29 years ago. Based on a true story, this novel chronicles Onoda’s almost mindlessly steadfast adherence to orders that kept him relentlessly fighting World War II long after there was no one and no reason to fight. Onoda’s experience, owing to its sheer length, could have lent itself to the epic treatment Norman Mailer lavished on his World War II Philippines experience, The Naked and the Dead. That sort of treatment would have shifted focus from Onoda’s single-mindedness to his war with the environment. Through spare language and minimal detail that recall Herzog’s screenwriting technique, together with great leaps through time, the novel spans the full 29 years of Onoda’s remarkable story while keeping the focus on him.
VERDICT A brief but powerful and noteworthy addition to the résumé of a master storyteller; fans of Herzog’s films will see the filmmaker’s cinematic fingerprints all over this absurdist, if absorbing, story.
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