Review Blog

Mar 17 2016

The emperor of any place by Tim Wynne-Jones

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Candlewick, 2015. ISBN 9780763669737
(Age: Older teens) During the Second World War, Oshiro, a wounded Japanese soldier finds himself on a small and remote Pacific island, after having escaped by raft from the Island of Tinian where U.S. forces were crushing all resistance. Gradually he recovers and lives a peaceful existence, living off the land and utilising a range of supplies from debris washed ashore following battles at sea.
The soldier's simple quest to survive the war and return alive to his beloved new wife is threatened when he discovers a recently crashed American transport aircraft loaded with rifles and ammunition, in the island's interior. Evidence reveals that one of the crew has survived in a seriously injured state but has escaped to an unknown hiding place. Fearing discovery by the enemy soldier, Oshiro carefully searches the island for him and a series of bizarre events lead to his capturing Derwood, the American. Language difficulties limit the pair's communication but in time, both come to understand that it is simply impossible for Oshiro to confine Derwood as a prisoner and the pair live an agreeable and cooperative existence on the island, posing no threat to one another and further, coming to depend on each other for survival.
Fifty years later, Evan, a Canadian teenager is distraught when his father, whom he loves dearly, dies unexpectedly from a heart attack. Evan's ninety year old Grandfather arrives to tend to his son's and Evan's legal affairs. Evan has never met Griff, a Marine veteran from World War II and fears him, based upon warnings and tales from his own father who fled from Griff and ceased all contact with him as soon as he was old enough.
At this time, Evan discovers a manuscript detailing the wartime experiences of Oshiro and Derwood among his father's effects and learns that Griff (somehow a part of the events), is doing his best to suppress publication of the story. Despite his age, Griff intimidates Evan who struggles with his rigid military ways and threatening behaviour.
The mystery of what happened to Oshiro and Derwood, and their connection with Griff is gradually uncovered by Evan and enables an intriguing plot to develop. Much of the wartime narrative however involves supernatural beings which play a significant role in the events on the island. Aside from the notion of ghosts representing souls yet to be born into the physical world, the supernatural elements seemed out of place and I couldn't help thinking that the tale suffered for their inclusion.
Rob Welsh
Editor's note: This book was on YALSA's 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults, is one of School Library Journal's Best Books 2015, and is on Horn Books Fanfare list.

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