This long-steeped book distills their conversations into a potent, vaporous fever dream; a meditation on truth, lie, illusion and time that floats like an aromatic haze through Herzog’s vivid reconstruction of Onoda’s war ... Herzog presents a kind of dual libretto to the operas both men conducted in their different jungles. They worked on different continents, in different eras and to different ends, but they served the same inexorable impulse: to lead a life of archetype in the modern day, outside of time, eternal.
... a brief, thoughtful narrative that dwells largely on the mechanisms of Onoda’s fortitude. It also occasionally detours into more poetic, sweeping passages in which Herzog rides his protagonist’s ever-spinning mind to muse on grand concepts like loyalty, time and self ... Herzog’s seasoned eye for a well-framed shot also translates seamlessly to the page as he invokes the perils of a relentless jungle that eventually becomes akin to a fog ... As profound and thought-provoking as the best of his films, Herzog’s The Twilight World delivers as a superb yet painful parable on the fleeting nature of purpose.
... spare and lyric ... Beautifully translated from German into English by Michael Hofmann, The Twilight World reveals the companionship of soldiers with nature and each other but concludes without examining the collective damage wrought by their imperialist fantasy. Mimicking nesting dolls with an architecture of time from 1997 to 1974 to 1944, where it lingers before boomeranging back, the novel’s construction could have made it possible to see into and around Onoda more ... In his feverish search for ecstatic truths, Herzog has given readers a portal into human folly, self-discipline and domination — surely his life’s work.
In making Onoda the subject of his first novel—a slender chronicle rendered in efficient, idiosyncratic English prose by the poet and translator Michael Hofmann—Herzog declines to treat him as a joke. He is clearly fascinated by the absurdity of this hero’s situation, and also determined to defend the dignity of a man who had no choice but to persevere in an impossible mission ... The Twilight World emphasizes the existential dimensions of Onoda’s strange, looping odyssey in language that often veers from the concrete data of jungle sounds and smells into dizzying abstraction ... Herzog is not interested in psychological or historical realism, or for that matter in literal facts, but in 'ecstatic truth' ... The Twilight World strikes me as too flimsy, too elliptical to count as essential Herzog, but it did send me back to his films with a renewed appreciation of what they put at stake and why they matter ... The affinity between Herzog and Onoda is evident on every page of The Twilight World, though to identify the author with his subject too closely would be a mistake. Herzog’s sympathy for his errant heroes is always evident, but so is the detachment required to represent them honestly, to find the truth that they themselves might be too absorbed in their own circumstances to see.
Nature's brutality, the immensity of time, dreams: these are Herzog's eternal fascinations, and he locates them all in Onoda's story ... 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.
... wondrous ... Few writers are better equipped to capture a place so overwhelmingly opaque that it lapses into absurdity, and a life that became an exercise in purposed purposelessness. In Herzog’s hands, Lubang exists outside of time, and Onoda’s war has the eerie gravity of a thought experiment come to life ... Herzog has always been attuned to the ways in which survivalism functions as a form of existentialism. The brutal irony of The Twilight World comes in moments like these, when Onoda succumbs to what a psychologist might call patternicity. He finds meaning everywhere, hearing signals that soon fade into the endless noise ... a funny novel in the same way that Herzog’s film Grizzly Man—about an environmentalist who loved bears, and was eaten by them—is a funny movie. To call it dark, dry, or deadpan is an understatement; it’s more like cosmic farce, or field recordings of the hiccups of fate. The novel’s most humorous events are also its most despairing ... he approaches the task of novel writing with more caution and, somehow, more abandon. He seems to write with an Onoda-like sense of obligation, and, indeed, he has said that he felt fiction was the only appropriate form for telling Onoda’s story ... slow and spectral ... a true story unpredictably enriched with fiction, it seems to shimmer with layers of meaning.
... it is not clear exactly why the director chose to tell his story in the form of a novel, which often reads like a voice-over in a Herzog film ... It turns out that The Twilight World is another platform for Herzog to explore the themes that have defined a body of work that stretches back to the late 1960s: man against nature, the thin line between dreams and reality, the tireless search for meaning in a meaningless world. That it is a novel doesn’t really distinguish it from his previous work, in which documentary subjects speak in long, staged paragraphs while actors must perform the impossible feats that their crazy characters are attempting. The book’s epigraph could stand as a summation of Herzog’s tendency to dissolve the difference between reality and fiction ... What makes The Twilight World unique is Onoda himself, since his mad exertions arose from the very specific historical context of Japanese militarism. Onoda was not a creative visionary who wanted to build an opera house in the Amazon. Nor was he an endearing kook who believed he had a special relationship with Alaska’s brown bears. He was one of millions of Japanese citizens who were indoctrinated in a cult of emperor worship and merrily went to war under that banner. That Herzog doesn’t quite grasp this distinction, that he sees Onoda as just one in a pantheon of Sisyphean figures waging private struggles in the face of the eternal jungle, reveals the limitations not only of his first novel but of his other work as well ... Coming near the end of Herzog’s slim novel, it is a rare indication that this character has any interiority at all. Herzog’s gaze, like a camera’s, can only capture surfaces ... The story of Hiroo Onoda shows how Herzog’s fascination with dreams can veer into Freudian nonsense—a reluctance to attribute people’s behavior to very obvious real-world causes, preferring instead to dwell on the mazy mysteries of the mind. The Twilight World also calls into question Herzog’s predilection for seeing all of humanity through the prism of the individual fighting the elements. Yes, in each person there is a light that is eternal and universal. But while individuals are remarkable creatures, people can be quite awful.
From the true story of a WWII soldier who kept up the fight until 1974, legendary filmmaker Herzog distills a brooding, poetic novella ... Herzog, ever in pursuit of deeper truths, sees in Onoda’s predicament an all-too-ordinary tendency to subordinate facts to master narratives ... Perhaps we prefer the jungle, Herzog suggests, if the alternative is facing reality.
Through spare language and minimal detail that recall Herzog’s screenwriting technique, together with great leaps through time, the novel spans the full 29 years of Onoda’s remarkable story while keeping the focus on him ... A brief but powerful and noteworthy addition to the résumé of a master storyteller; fans of Herzog’s films will see the filmmaker’s cinematic fingerprints all over this absurdist, if absorbing, story.
Fascinating ... Onoda’s reemergence into a changed world in 1975 adds a captivating layer, though it’s all too brief and lightly sketched. Still, Onoda shares with the director’s filmic protagonists a fierce will and singular perspective. This will whet the reader’s appetite for a film version.
Stunning tale of obsession unto madness by a master of that narrow but fruitful genre ... Herzog fans will hope for a film to come. Meanwhile, this evocation of loyalty to a lost cause serves beautifully.