The first time I came across a ‘book within a book’ was in Matthew Reilly’s “Temple”. The theft of a fabled manuscript written by a monk in Peru in the 1500’s ignites a race to find a medieval treasure, hidden in the Peruvian jungle.
The idea intrigued me, and I decided to utilize the same concept when writing my own book. On my teaser page for my novel, under the heading of Books, the second teaser tells a little about the basis for this book within a book – a diary.
'In the midst of the war in the Pacific, not long after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japan sent various undercover agents overseas with the purpose of gathering resources to help aid the war effort. The agents were tasked with bringing back supplies of copper, nickel, iron, and even more importantly, rubber, oil and steel.
Along the way however, vast amounts of gold and jewels were also collected. Much of this treasure never made it back to Tokyo as intended, in most part due to the allies cutting supply lines as Japan began to lose the war, but also because of the invasion of Okinawa.
What happened to all that treasure? Where is it now? And what does that have to do with Joshua Hawke, a young American teacher working in Osaka?'
Joshua Hawke discovers a decades-old diary belonging to the grandfather of a local Yakuza boss. As he begins to read the diary, he becomes fascinated by the story within, and he learns of the existence of a massive World War Two era treasure. He continues to read and translate the diary in the hopes of finding out what became of the treasure, and where it may be located today, if it still exists…
So, as a bonus to say “thank you for following my blog”, here is the first chapter of Hideki’s Diary. I’ll just put the first few pages here on the writing blog, and if you like it and would be interested in reading more, then you can download the attached file (Hideki’s Diary: Chapter One) for free. Enjoy!
Back home in his apartment, Joshua thought of his copy of the diary that belonged to Tetsuo Tanaka’s grandfather, Hideki. He retrieved it from where it was hidden under his TV. He took his time and looked at the diary very carefully. On the cover was simply Hideki’s full name in kanji characters:
田中秀樹. The first two characters read Tanaka, and the second two, Hideki. With Japanese names, the family name always comes first.
Turning the page he saw the characters 日記, ‘nikki’, meaning diary. Underneath was Hideki’s name again, written in kanji characters. Joshua flipped over to the next page, and saw what appeared to be a sole haiku poem, nothing else. Joshua read the poem.
He consulted his dictionary and translated the old haiku as: ‘Sick on a journey, dreams on a plain, blow around.’
Unable to make sense of it, or its relevance to the diary, he picked up the phone and dialed Mieko’s cell. He read the poem to her, both in Japanese, and then his attempt at translation. Mieko excused herself, dropped the phone and ran off to get a haiku book of hers. She came back after a couple of minutes, picked up the phone and spoke rapidly.
“Okay, sorry about that, Josh. I have it! I thought I recognized it. I studied it at high school in my last year. It was one of the last poems from the famous haiku master, Matsuo Basho. And Josh, you did a very good job of translating it… almost!”
“Oh, okay,” said Joshua, embarrassed, but smiling at Mieko’s gentle way of rebuking him. “What’s the correct translation? And what do you think it means?”
“Frail from the journey, across a barren field, blows a wanderer’s dreams,” Mieko informed him. “Simply, a tired and weak wanderer’s dreams blow across a dead land. Our teacher at school said that while Basho was born in 1644, the poem could also be relevant to soldiers returning home in 1945 to a landscape flattened by American bombs, and their dreams unfulfilled. It’s a poem that’s very haunting for many Japanese.”
“Okay,” said Joshua slowly, his mind turning over ideas rapidly, searching for the reason why Hideki Tanaka would have used this poem to begin his diary. Japanese people usually didn’t do things unconsciously – there had to be some meaning behind it.
“Your great grandfather was a soldier in the war, wasn’t he? Was he Yakuza?”
“Yeah, but he wasn’t in the military, although he did go overseas during the war. Father said that he traveled around the Pacific on a ship, assisting the war effort.”
“Okay so it makes sense then that he came back to Japan, maybe his own mission a failure, only to find that his country was in ruins …”
“Hmmm. My father said at dinner the other night that his grandfather was a ‘dream-chaser’, whatever that means.”
“Okay, thanks Mie-chan. I won’t know for sure, I guess, until I read more.”
Joshua and Mieko exchanged pleasantries and wishes of farewell, before reluctantly hanging up.
“What are your words trying to tell me, Hideki?” asked Joshua aloud.
Joshua’s curiosity was fully aroused now. He sat down at his table with his kanji dictionary on one side, his Japanese-to-English dictionary on the other, and a fresh pot of coffee in front of him. Then he flipped the page over to the next page, which was the first official entry in the diary. Enthralled, Joshua started reading. He translated as he read, occasionally using either one or both of his dictionaries.
Joshua translated that as:
Eighteenth year of Showa Emperor’s reign. He noted that it was 1943 on the western calendar. Resources. Japan needed resources for the war.
General Tojo, who was both the Prime Minister and Army Chief of Staff, had summoned me to his office. The letter from his office stated that there was a job for me, which would help Japan, and that in doing so I would also be serving the Emperor. It is well known in Japan that the Yakuza is extremely right wing, and swears loyalty to the emperor; we are traditionalists at heart. I suppose then that as one of the Yakuza Kobun (‘made guys’ or junior bosses, Joshua noted) of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the most powerful Yakuza clan in Japan, I shouldn’t have been surprised to be asked to provide a service for our divine, beloved Emperor, Hirohito-sama; although not directly of course. Even though the unofficial request came from the Prime Minister’s office, it briefly alluded to the Emperor and implied that my skills would be most valuable in assisting Japan.
After almost three years at war, Japan was desperate for resources to support the troops overseas. Yakuza numbers had been decimated by arrests and the military draft. There were only twenty-five Kobun left in our clan. I was working alongside Kazuo ‘the Bear’ Taoka, the leading Kobun, and who had just been released from jail after doing eight years in prison for killing a rival gangster. Our Oyabun was the legendary Noboru Yamaguchi, who died earlier this year. The leading Kobun, Kazuo Taoka, has taken over as the new Oyabun. However, Noboru Yamaguchi was like a father to me. It was also Yamaguchi who recommended me to General Tojo, when asked for a suitable agent to carry out military orders. And so I found myself bowing before the General himself.