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Story of a JapaneseAmerican during and after World War II

Soldiers in Hiding, by Richard Wiley. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press. 199 pp. $14.95. Richard Wiley, author of the well-received first novel ``Soldiers in Hiding,'' is a student of the Japanese language and people, and has mastered not only the inflection and pacing of a Japanese writing in English, but also the spare, suggestive way the Japanese construct a philosophy.

Maki, the main character and voice of this story, never betrays his American roots, and neither does Mr. Wiley.

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Teddy Maki is a nisei, a Japanese of the first generation born in the United States, and an American citizen. He is also a jazz musician, and is on tour in Japan when the attack on Pearl Harbor traps him in the country of his ancestors. With his friends, he is forced to join the Japanese army to preserve his life.

Maki is assigned as a POW camp guard, where, ironically, he guards his own countrymen while wearing the uniform of his -- what shall we call it? -- his race.

His war experiences are told as reminiscences of the current-day Maki, a much older man who still lives in Japan, and who now watches the confluence of Japanese and American cultures with growing wonder and confusion about the real reasons for the war.

He watches his son grow up in Japan's prosperity, barely aware of the wreckage and disaster of a scant 30 years ago. He does not bemoan the past to his son, recognizing that the willful act of forgetting is not only a by-product of defeat, but also a tool of survival.

To himself, he regrets what he has become, andregrets the loss of much of Japan's beauty and orderto the unrestrained manufacture of automobiles and electronics.

``A life comes in stages,'' one character advises Teddy Maki. ``People change. It is merely the illusion that they do not that misleads you.''

And Teddy Maki, an American forced by the war to become a Japanese again, tries to fathom the changes in himself. His introspection must surely be one of the most interesting attempts to clarify the present and past Japanese relationship with the United States.

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For an American to write from a Japanese standpoint, regardless of how long he has studied their culture, is an act of extreme literary bravery, and Mr. Wiley brings it off smoothly and dispassionately in this admirable first novel.

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