The Testimony of John Provoo

Non-Fiction - Biography
252 Pages
Reviewed on 06/05/2015
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    Book Review

Reviewed by William Peace for Readers' Favorite

Author John Oliver was working in Hawaii when he met John Provoo and decided to tell his story. Nichijo: The Testimony of John Provoo is therefore like an autobiography, as it is written in the first person. According to his ‘testimony’, John Provoo grew up in San Francisco, having been born in 1917. He was attracted to Buddhism and believed in the sanctity of all life. In March 1940, he went to Japan to study for the Buddhist priesthood. He returned to the US in May 1941 under the threat of imminent war, and enlisted in the US Army. He was sent to the Philippines where he worked as a clerk in Army headquarters in Manila. He was captured by the Japanese in the Battle of Corregidor and became a prisoner of war.

Much of the book concerns his time as a Japanese prisoner. Because of his fluency in Japanese and his understanding of Japanese culture, he often had to deal directly with his captors. This led simultaneously to somewhat more lenient treatment of fellow prisoners and suspicions by the same fellow prisoners that Provoo was giving aid and comfort to the enemy. When he returned to the US, he was accused of collaboration with the enemy, was acquitted, and re-enlisted in 1946. For most of the next ten years, he was pursued by the US Justice Department for treason, and underwent several trials, during which his homosexuality was used against him. Eventually, he was acquitted and went to Japan to complete his Buddhist training and to Hawaii where, as a high level Buddhist priest, he lived the rest of his life, dying in 2001.

One has the sense in reading the book of an honest re-counting of history, and, as such, it makes very interesting reading: in particular, the conflicted position in which a Japanese-speaking Provoo found himself as a Japanese prisoner of war; the shameful conduct of the Justice Department in mounting a hugely costly campaign against him and in using his homosexuality against him. It appears that John Oliver undertook a considerable amount of independent research to complete this book, and that he did not rely only on what Provoo told him. Nichijo, The Testimony of John Provoo (Nichijo is Provoo’s name as a Buddhist priest) is quite an interesting read. I enjoyed it.