Sunday, May 3, 2020

Michael Booth's "Three Tigers, One Mountain"

Michael Booth is the author of multiple works of non-fiction, including The Almost Nearly Perfect People and Super Sushi Ramen Express. His writing appears regularly in The Guardian, The Independent, The Times, The Telegraph, and Condé Nast Traveler magazine, among many other publications globally. He is the Copenhagen correspondent for Monocle magazine and Monocle 24 radio, and travels regularly to give talks and lectures on the Nordic lands and their peculiar, nearly perfect people.

Booth applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Three Tigers, One Mountain: A Journey Through the Bitter History and Current Conflicts of China, Korea, and Japan, and reported the following:
Page 99 features one of the more unusual, and grisly, stories from my journey through Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan. It was a physical journey, by car, train, boat and bus, but I went in search of the shared history and culture of these countries, and to get to the bottom of the reasons for their troubled present day relations. In a way, the page 99 story is pretty representative of all this.

The story is this: In the late 16th century, the Japanese forces of Toyotomi Hideyoshi twice invaded the Korean peninsula, killing many thousands of people. To provide evidence of the death toll, the army sent back the severed noses of their victims to Japan, packed in salt. The noses were buried in special mounds, most of which have been lost to time. However, back in the 1990s, a Korean monk campaigned to repatriate the noses and was given permission by the Japanese authorities to excavate one tomb. The noses had disappeared, but some symbolic soil was taken from Japan to south western Korea. On page 99 I tell of my attempts to track down the temple where the soil was interred, with the help of a friendly park ranger, Mr Kang.

Most of my books are kind of humorous, at least that’s usually my intention. I have a kind of ironic style, I suppose. It’s a fault, common to lots of English travel writers. Self-deprecation. Irony. Sarcasm. That kind of thing. When I decided to write this book, I realised that style was going to be wholly unsuitable to many of the topics I would need to explore, not least Japan’s war crimes. It was a big problem.

In a way, my page 99 tale typifies the challenge. It’s a deeply horrid tale, and I tell it with what many will probably find to be a deeply inappropriate tone. But, as they say, tragedy + time = comedy. In this case, I judged that five hundred years was enough time to get away with it. In terms of the 20th century history I cover in the book, it was all absolutely too recent. So I steered well clear of anything remotely funny when discussing that, obviously.
Visit Michael Booth's website.

--Marshal Zeringue