Year Zero (ALA Notable Books for Adults) Pdf Summary
A marvelous global history of the pivotal year 1945 as a new world emerged from the ruins of World War II
Year Zero is a landmark reckoning with the great drama that ensued after war came to an end in 1945. One world had ended and a new, uncertain one was beginning. Regime change had come on a global scale: across Asia (including China, Korea, Indochina, and the Philippines, and of course Japan) and all of continental Europe. Out of the often vicious power struggles that ensued emerged the modern world as we know it.
In human terms, the scale of transformation is almost impossible to imagine. Great cities around the world lay in ruins, their populations decimated, displaced, starving. Harsh revenge was meted out on a wide scale, and the ground was laid for much horror to come. At the same time, in the wake of unspeakable loss, the euphoria of the liberated was extraordinary, and the revelry unprecedented. The postwar years gave rise to the European welfare state, the United Nations, decolonization, Japanese pacifism, and the European Union. Social, cultural, and political “reeducation” was imposed on vanquished by victors on a scale that also had no historical precedent. Much that was done was ill advised, but in hindsight, as Ian Buruma shows us, these efforts were in fact relatively enlightened, humane, and effective.
A poignant grace note throughout this history is Buruma’s own father’s story. Seized by the Nazis during the occupation of Holland, he spent much of the war in Berlin as a laborer, and by war’s end was literally hiding in the rubble of a flattened city, having barely managed to survive starvation rations, Allied bombing, and Soviet shock troops when the end came. His journey home and attempted reentry into “normalcy” stand in many ways for his generation’s experience.
A work of enormous range and stirring human drama, conjuring both the Asian and European theaters with equal fluency, Year Zero is a book that Ian Buruma is perhaps uniquely positioned to write. It is surely his masterpiece.
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5.0 out of 5 stars We are wrong to think that the horrors ended after the surrenders of Germany and Japan.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 3, 2013
At the end of World War II after the death camps were liberated, aid workers noticed a strange thing among the survivors waiting to be relocated. Half-dead, grotesquely emaciated, many became sexually promiscuous. The author of the book, Ian Buruma, quotes a doctor that one could not really blame the young girls who had passed through hell and “are now seized by an irresistible desire for affection and forgetfulness…” Outside the camps VD rates and illegitimate births rose sharply. Buruma says “the fact is that many women and men were simply looking for warmth, companionship, love, even marriage.” This book is worth reading if for no other reason than to learn what happened to a case of lipstick mistakenly sent to Bergen-Belsen after the war.
More than 60 million people died in World War II, over three percent of the world’s population, for no good reason as far as anyone can tell now. Among the least ignoble reasons for the German and Japanese leaders who decided to go to war was to get “living space,” because it was thought that without land and colonies their countries would decline. Look at them now, Germany with no eastern territories and Japan with no colonies, two of the richest places on earth. The men in those countries who made World War II caused unspeakable suffering for an idea which was dead wrong.
The country which lost the most people was the Soviet Union. Eight million Soviet soldiers died, of whom 3.3 million were deliberately starved to death. Sixteen million Soviet civilians died. Ten million Chinese civilians died (the United States lost 0.4 million soldiers and civilians).
This is a book about the people who survived. We are wrong to think that the horrors ended after the surrenders of Germany and Japan. Although the magnitude of the horrors was smaller, the stories are harrowing. In 1945 in the Netherlands 18,000 people died of starvation, which got so bad that the British and Americans took to dropping loaves of bread from the sky. In Japan more than 20,000 people died of dysentery in 1945. In Italy 20,000 fascists and collaborators were killed in the north of Italy, 8,000 thousand in the Piedmont, 4,000 in Lombardy, 3,000 in Emilia and 3,000 in Milan province. In France over 10,000 collaborators were murdered. One American soldier machine-gunned three hundred concentration camp guards.
Some the people who were murdered after the war were “collaborators”, but as Buruma points out, most of the collaborators were never punished. In fact it would have been impossible to punish all the collaborators, because there would have been no one left to govern the cities or teach the children. Many of the worst offenders went unpunished. Some people were tried and executed, but often the wrong ones and on shaky evidence. Often the people exacting revenge were themselves guilty. One feels after reading this book that a person who lived through World War II could not possibly have known which decisions might save them. The innocent, the righteous, the evil and the sadistic seem to have had equal chances of perishing.
The main point of this book is that after the war as well as during it, there were no good ways to proceed. The victors made bad decisions, but often any decision would have been bad, and many of the decisions were the lesser of many evils. As time went on, people constructed myths about the war, but nothing we thought was true turns out to have been so. For instance,
* Although the rapes committed by the Soviet troops in Germany and the Japanese in China were on a massive scale, the victims being in the millions, one estimate is that at least 40 Japanese women per day were raped by the allied soldiers in the latter half of 1945.
* Although the Germans and Russians were notorious thieves and looters, the American army had its share. After France was liberated some US soldiers deserted from the army, stole army trucks, stocked up on gasoline and sold it to French gangsters (they were caught because they took to living like kings in Paris).
* One weeps for the Jews and Poles who died in the concentration camps, but also for the captured Soviet soldiers whom the allies forced to return home to a certain death (anyone who was captured was by definition a traitor) and for the 10 million (TEN MILLION) German speaking citizens of Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania who, after the war, were forced leave their homes for a devastated Germany, where many had never been before. Many were killed on the way.
This is one of those books which teach you that if ever you thought you knew anything definite, you are wrong. The world is too complex. Ian Buruma, half-Dutch, half English, descended from Mennonites and Jews, a scholar of Japanese history and culture, and a flawless prose stylist, is the right man to make this point.
4.0 out of 5 stars good, but perhaps tries to tackle too much
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on May 12, 2020
I read this book in honour of VE Day, rather expecting it to focus at least in part on the last few months of the war in Europe leading up to VE Day. Instead it started from the last few weeks of the war and focused thematically on the main trends from then until the end of the year: the exultation of release from concentration camps, combined with the dire state of the survivors; the cycles of revenge that the end of hostilities gave rise to in the occupied countries; the return, or attempted return, of huge numbers of displaced persons to their homes; attempts to drain the poison of fascism and militarism from Germany and Japan; and the beginnings of the rebuilding of society in all the devastated countries. The first steps towards rebuilding were combined with a limited but very real sense of optimism at the potential for a new start in individual countries and also, at least initially, internationally with the establishment of the United Nations, hence the title of the book. That said, the author concludes prosaically that:
“the sense one gets from newspapers around the world on the last day of 1945 is that most people were too anxious to get on with their own lives to care much about the global news anymore. During a worldwide war, everywhere matters. In times of peace, people look to home.”
“If there is anything to be gleaned from these glimpses of the global mood on New Year’s Eve, it is that a certain sense of normality was beginning to seep back into the daily lives of people who were lucky enough to be able to lift their heads from the direst misery of the immediate postwar period.”
My only criticism would probably be that the author tries to cover too much ground, in too many countries, and I might have preferred it if all the material on, say, Japan had been in one section, rather than scattered thematically throughout the chapters – though this may just be my personal preference.
The Prodigal Son
5.0 out of 5 stars The negative reviews should be read with care
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on May 22, 2016
There are a couple of pictures in the book of people enjoying themselves on or around VE-Day: a photograph of a couple of Dutch girls on a Canadian soldier’s motorbike, and a couple of British sailors and their girlfriends splashing around in a fountain. Those are the only joyful things in the book. A great many of the events and incidents described in the book are harrowing, distressing, horrific. Until I read this book, I had made the extraordinarily naive assumption that once the war ended, the killings, rapes, the hatred and the bigotry would be more or less at an end. That assumption was very clearly wrong.
The author’s whole approach is serious, very well-researched and thorough, as it needs to be for this subject, of course. The author has clearly expended an enormous amount of time and effort in the creation of the book.
Yet one of the critical reviewers expends considerably less time and effort and somehow manages to sum the book up in four words: “Fairly dry… but informative” and in doing so, damns Buruma and his book with faint praise. Some critical reviewers say the book doesn’t have enough descriptions of personal incidents, other critical reviewers say the book has too many descriptions of personal incidents. Another reviewer says the book is: “Depressingly badly written, repetitive, superficial and full of inaccuracies”, yet the same can’t be bothered to present a single example from the book to back up this scathing attack. And so on.
It would be possible to come up with a number of theories for the inadequacies of the critical reviews: maybe the reviewers hadn’t read the book, or they had read it and didn’t understand it, or they had taken a dislike to the author for some reason.
I have no idea which, if any, of those theories is correct. I am simply trying to show that the critical reviews for this book may not provide you with reliable information to help you decide whether you should buy the book or not.
That’s true for any reviews for any book from any supplier, of course, and it might equally apply to the reviews which are not critical. However, I’m writing all of this because I was particularly struck by the inadequacies of the critical reviews for this specific book.
About Ian Buruma Author Of Year Zero pdf Book
Ian Buruma Author Of Year Zero pdf Book is a British-Dutch writer and academic, much of whose work focuses on the culture of Asia, particularly that of 20th-century Japan, where he lived and worked for many years.
Year Zero pdf, Paperback, Hardcover Book Information
- Publisher : Penguin Press; First edition (September 26, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1594204365
- ISBN-13 : 978-1594204364
- Item Weight : 1.45 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.52 x 2.12 x 9.52 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #896,864 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #8,319 in World War II History (Books)
- #22,365 in World History (Books)
- Customer Reviews: 4.4 out of 5 stars 343 ratings
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