The debut novel from acclaimed director Herzog. At the end of 1944, on Lubang Island in the Philippines, with Japanese troops about to withdraw, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was given orders by his superior officer: Hold the island until the Imperial army's return. You are to defend its territory by guerrilla tactics, at all costs. So began Onoda's long campaign, during which he became fluent in the hidden language of the jungle. Soon weeks turned into months, months into years, and years into decades—until eventually time itself seemed to melt away. All the while Onoda continued to fight his fictitious war, at once surreal and tragic, at first with other soldiers, and then, finally, alone, a character in a novel of his own making.
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.
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.
... 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.