ByMichael P. Hartnetton April 4, 2018
Escarpment by David Turri is a simultaneously humorous yet moving journey through Japan and its war-torn legacy. Our narrator Dave is a cantankerous, self-deprecating guide to an expatriate’s vision of a country inhabited both by its intense economic present and its bloody, haunted past. The up-and-coming businessman Matt serves as the conduit between these worlds as his somnambulant soul is inhabited by a sergeant in lost his life in the brutal Battle of Okinawa back in 1945. Turri deftly handles this layered plot in humorous ways as the long-suffering Dave seems as cursed by the burden of Matt’s peregrinations as Matt is by the ghosts of lost Japanese soldiers. Much of the extraordinary underlying story is related by scholar Mr. Shimizu, who has a gift for spinning evocative accounts of the horribly brutal battles on that island.
Ultimately, Escarpment amounts to a loopy, yet powerful novel that makes compelling and original connections even as most the characters are reluctant participants. That reluctance and grounded outlook give the spiritual elements of the plot gravity and fill the work with authentic, character-driven humor. David’s wife Keiko is absolutely hilarious and her combination of morality and hostility gives the novel a wonderful edge. As Dave wryly explains, “There is not a wife in the world that cannot reinforce an existing problem by adding walls, pouring in concrete and making it a stronger, bigger and almost insurmountable one.”
Turri has given the readers a daring and lively tale here. Escarpment is truly an adventure story that offers great understanding of the savagery of war’s legacy even as it pulses with a big-hearted, charming humanity.