The Twilight World

Werner Herzog (Conquest of the Useless), best known as the director of dozens of acclaimed documentary and narrative feature films, brings his inimitable voice and idiosyncratic vision of nature to his first novel, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann. The Twilight World is a fictionalized account of Hiroo Onoda, a famous Japanese World War II holdout who continued fighting for nearly three decades after the war's close, unaware of his country's defeat.

In 1944, as the Japanese Imperial Army evacuates the island of Lubang in the Philippines, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda receives secret orders to remain behind and wage guerilla warfare on the advancing American forces. His commander instructs him to "be like a ghost, elusive, a continuing nightmare to the enemy." He is to hold the island until the Imperial Army returns, but it never does. Years elapse, and time itself gives way to "the overwhelming, implacable present tense of the jungle," as his solitary war plays out in a stream of fragmentary, dreamlike sketches. Nature's brutality, the immensity of time, dreams: these are Herzog's eternal fascinations, and he locates them all in Onoda's story.

Drawing inspiration from his real-life meeting with Onoda in the late 1990s, an event that frames the action of the novel, Herzog aims not so much for factual accuracy as "some essence he thought he glimpsed" during their encounter--at least according to the note included in the novel's frontmatter. This blurring of documentary and fictional storytelling will be familiar to fans of the author's films, as will the mesmerizing, otherworldly tone with which he achieves his effect. --Theo Henderson, bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle, Wash.

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