Book Note:
Buruma in Tokyo
24 May 2018

¶ After yesterday’s amusements, I was good for nothing but reading. Happily, a copy of Ian Buruma’s A Tokyo Romance arrived. 

I have read several books by Buruma, including Voltaire’s Coconuts, his short history of modern Japan, and his book about the assassination of Theo van Gogh, and I still have all three. Now, of course, he is the editor of The New York Review of Books, and as Bah a Pooh as it is possible to be. 

The reviews of A Tokyo Romance were difficult to parse. I am not much interested in the things that interested Buruma in the mid-Seventies — although he went to Tokyo to study Japanese film, he got involved with alternative theatre, which I find annoying at best — but I wanted to see how he handled the memoir form.

So far as his personal life goes, he is quite discreet, which I don’t mind. But he has nothing to say about his intellectual development. All he does is point to the people and things that caught his attention — not the same thing at all. I can’t fault him for not writing a book that he apparently had no intention of writing, but I’m disappointed all the same, because I was hoping for some inspiration. Instead, I got high-level reporting.

Journalism has saved literature — that much is clear. But the price is very high. Reporters are professionally tongue-tied when it comes to explaining their own trains of thought.

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