I’ve been very surprised by the number of bad, or at least less than stellar, reviews Ian Buruma’s The China Lover has got. Though rarely trashed, many reviewers seem to have been left unsatisfied arguing the book is disjointed, inchoate or incomplete; that we never quite get to fully understand the main character Yochiko Yamaguchi, who is of course a real life character, the Manchurian-born, Japanese actress known alternatively as Li Xianglan, Ri Koran or Shirley Yamaguchi.
This incompleteness, the never quite knowing seems to me a poor thing to criticise Buruma for. First of all, though Yochiko Yamaguchi is a real person the book has the words “A NOVEL” stamped on the front of it. Unlike a lot of reviewers I chose to interpret this to mean that it was (surprise, surprise) a novel rather than A BIOGRAPHY. While a biography of Yochiko Yamaguchi would be interesting, and several exist, the point that she was never just one thing and the fascinating life of being born in Japanese-occupied Manchuria (China) to Japanese parents and then appearing in the Japanese-made propaganda movies shot in Manchuria and having to pretend to be Chinese lends itself to fiction. To an extent all actors and actresses are fictions – Yochiko was a double fiction, if not triple or quadruple.
I’m not going to reprise her life anymore or review the book (available with a couple of covers) – just read it. What I thought I’d do is try and add the photos that would have probably been in the book had Buruma decided to include any. He didn’t – which is his business and fine (reminder to churlish reviewers – on the cover it says A NOVEL) – but I’m adding them here.
I’ll break the posts by the phases of Yamaguchi’s career - the Manchurian days, Tokyo after the War, her brief (and not altogether successful) flirtation with America-Hollywood and finally her post-movies life. That’ll keep me posting for the rest of the week.
The China Lover Images I - Li Xianglan/Ri Koran The Manchurian Days
The China Lover Images II – The Tokyo Years
The China Lover Images III – The Hollywood Sojourn