Book review: 'Enemy in the Mirror'

<p>"Enemy in the Mirror" by Manzanita author Mark Scott Smith.</p>

If you are looking for a new book to chase away the winter blues but can’t decide on one genre, you are in luck. Mark Smith’s new book, “Enemy in the Mirror: Love and Fury in the Pacific,” deftly combines drama, romance and action into one enjoyable read. Published in 2012, the novel is set against a backdrop that ranges from recognizable North Oregon Coast locales to across the Pacific Ocean in Imperial Japan. History buffs will delight in the attention to period detail. Most importantly, “Enemy in the Mirror” serves as a historical lesson on the useless tragedy of war and its transformative effects on family life.

When Dr. Mark Smith, an academic pediatrician, retired from his post at the University of Washington to live in Manzanita, he became intrigued with the history of Imperial Japanese attacks on Oregon during World War II.

After several years of research here and in Japan, he created a fictionalized account of these events from both American and Japanese viewpoints. Smith recently debuted “Enemy in the Mirror: Love and Fury in the Pacific War” locally with a November 2012 reading at the Hoffman Center in Manzanita, where he reviewed the history of these events.

While Smith’s story is set against the landscape of war, it is certainly not an action novel. He has written a novel that is carefully crafted and developed, fully imagined and emotionally engrossing. “Enemy in the Mirror” intertwines the stories of ordinary people on two Pacific shores, one in coastal Japan and the Northwest coast, whose lives are irreversibly altered by World War II. As the reader switches between nations, cultures and characters, you get a complete understanding of the terrible complexities of war and its reach into lives with much commonality. Instead of resorting to melodramatic clichés, the book gently reminds readers of the horrors of war while presenting human faces of the conflict that shaped a generation.

The depth of Smith’s research is obvious, and he deftly takes readers on a tour of a world at war. His best attributes include vividly descriptive scenes, excellent portrayal of raw human emotion and dialogue that has the ring of authenticity representative of the period. Smith locates us in the thick of battle without pulling punches, something that is needed in the 21st century when so many people seem desensitized to violence. He also lets us see how lives of those who wait at home for their loved ones to return can resort to a daily struggle to retain sanity. “Enemy in the Mirror” brings us many lessons in how fragile life can be and how important it is to give and receive love, even when the world seems to be falling to pieces around us. It is to the author’s credit that we come to see these lessons less as suffering than as the epiphany of grace.

Because Smith has steeped his characters in such philosophical territory, the reader is eager to learn more of their interior struggles, doubts, and moments of grief or bliss. It is a reminder that not everything in life can be wrapped up in a tidy little package, especially during wartime. Life is messy and uncertain, and Smith’s protagonists portray that directly from the pages.

Writing historical fiction poses daunting challenges, as events must align themselves with the facts. This means that characters sometimes are restricted in their movements. This is not the case with “Enemy in the Mirror,” as Smith pushes his characters up against their historical backdrop and challenges readers to respond. The book leaves the reader with a sense of sadness about the futile, senseless tragedy of war, and the reader is fully invested in this as the story winds down. There is, however, also a sense hope for the future because of the courageous and unyielding optimism of those who survived. In that way, Smith’s book is a love letter to past generations and a peace accord to future ones.

In a new century with new wars, the story that Smith tells in “Enemy in the Mirror” is, unfortunately, on a seemingly continuous loop. But, as the author shows readers, hope lives even when the world seems to be on fire. Hope lives in those who wait at home and those who want nothing more than to return home – whether that’s to Japan, the Pacific Northwest or any point beyond. Smith’s book is, above all else, a reminder that hope survives human events’ best attempts to snuff it out.

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