An account of three figures—a Dutch fixer, a Manchu princess, and Himmler's masseur—who may have been con artists and collaborators under Japanese and German rule, or true heroes, or something in between.
So much sleaze oozes out of the morally compromised subjects in Ian Buruma’s disquieting group portrait... that nearly every page leaves a stain of betrayal ... The sheer flamboyance of Mr. Buruma’s shape-shifters commands our attention.
Buruma has long demonstrated an ability to depict even horrific wartime events with remove ... In The Collaborators, some readers may find Buruma’s permissiveness toward his subjects’ conduct and moral barometers unnerving, even disturbing. The author painstakingly lays out the discrepant historical evidence surrounding their most egregious actions. Yet in some instances, the existing, court-admissable evidence against them appears damning ... Buruma details her early years with interest, but fails to adequately underscore the trauma of being relegated to probable sexual slavery by one’s own parents; nor does he sufficiently explore the full impact that this brutalization might have had on her actions throughout her brief life ... Buruma successfully uses the three narratives to warn us about reckless charlatans in power today, and against the ongoing peril of kakistocracies. Yet in drilling down on this central conceit, Buruma arrives at an odd, off-putting conclusion ... Buruma’s choice to focus on this supporting-cast roster of individuals is no misstep. What would be, however, is a failure to drive home the greater lessons and conundrums that their tragic lives present.
Meticulously, relentlessly, Buruma dissects these collaborators’ contradictory and self-serving accounts and cross-references with other sources to get closer to the truth ... A powerful exploration of complicity, ambivalence, and the human capacity for deception and self-rationalization.