Werner Herzog’s Wondrous Novel of Nothingness in the Jungle

The Japanese lieutenant Hiroo Onoda emerged from hiding, in 1974, after fighting the Second World War for twenty-nine years.

“The Twilight World” is 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. When, at last, Onoda left Lubang, in 1974, he was reluctant to abandon the elaborate dream he’d inhabited. He’d stumbled upon a Japanese tourist who’d gone looking for him. As Onoda held him at gunpoint, the tourist swore that the war was over. To prove it, he returned a few weeks later with Onoda’s commanding officer, now an old man, who ordered the soldier to stand down. Onoda still hoped that it wasn’t true, that the Army “had merely wanted to test his dependability.”