An American Combat Psychiatrist, 
a Japanese War Crimes Suspect, 
and an Unsolved Mystery from World War II

Scribner, 2014

From an “illuminating and entertaining” (The New York Times) young writer, the story that explores the fateful intersection of two men at the Tokyo war crimes trial that followed World War II: a Japanese nationalist charged with war crimes and the American doctor assigned to determine his sanity—and thus his fate.

In the wake of World War II the Allied forces charged twenty-eight Japanese men with crimes against humanity during the Tokyo war crimes trial. At their conclusion, seven were hanged for their war crimes and almost all the others served lengthy prison sentences. Okawa Shumei, a brilliant ideologue, was the only civilian among the indicted “Class-A” suspects. In the years leading up to World War II, Okawa had outlined a divine mission for Japan to lead Asia, prophesized a great clash with the United States, planned coups d’etat with military rebels, and financed the assassination of a Prime Minister. Beyond “all vestiges of doubt,” concluded a then-classified American report prepared in 1946, “Okawa moved in the best circles of nationalist intrigue.”

On the first day of the trial, Okawa made headlines around the world by slapping star defendant Tojo Hideki on the head. Had Okawa lost his sanity? Or was he faking madness to avoid a grim punishment? A US Army psychiatrist in occupied Japan—the author’s own grandfather—was charged with determining whether Okawa was fit to stand trial. He’d seen madness his whole life, from his home in Brooklyn to the battlefields of Europe, and now his seasoned eye faced the ultimate test. A Curious Madness is the suspenseful tale of each man’s journey to this climactic historical moment.

News & Notes

Advance Praise

“Eric Jaffe has given us an extraordinary book, at once intimate (a wrenching tale of family madness) and epic (two nations gathering themselves to fight a devastating war). While never slowing his narrative velocity, the author finds in the convergence of two very different lives an encapsulation of immense issues: When does patriotism become criminal? What does combat do to the human spirit? Can a victorious nation ever mete out just punishment to a vanquished enemy? Here is a work of the greatest significance that is as engrossing as a first-rate detective story—which, in a way, it is as well.”
— Richard Snow, author of A Measureless Peril: America in the Fight for the Atlantic, the Longest Battle of WWII

“Travelling effortlessly between times and places, Eric Jaffe recounts the uneasy meeting of two curious minds. The story of the eccentric Japanese philosopher Okawa Shumei, a suspected war criminal and ideological mastermind behind Japan’s war mobilization in World War II, and Daniel Jaffe, a young American combat psychiatrist and the author’s grandfather who judged Okawa too mad to stand trial, provides a series of illumining, thoughtful, and at times funny insights on how we ourselves deal with our own minds and imaginations. A CURIOUS MADNESS is a powerful proof that true life is stranger, indeed more curious, than fiction.”
— Eri Hotta, author of Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy

“In Tokyo, just after World War Two, Eric Jaffe’s grandfather played a small but remarkable role in what is sometimes remembered as Japan’s Nuremberg Trials. In A Curious Madness, Jaffe tells the story. The book is a brave, meticulously researched and beautifully balanced account of an episode that by its very nature must always remain unaccountable.”
— Jonathan Weiner, author of The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time, 1995 Pulitzer Prize

Reviews & Media Mentions

“… [Jaffe] learns about the early experiences of his grandfather, a taciturn man with mental illness in his own family, and about Okawa’s path to radicalism, tracing their lives to their brief but historically weighty point of intersection.”
— New, Books to Watch Out For: January 2014

” ‘A Curious Madness’ is structured as parallel biographies—a passage on Okawa’s youth followed by one on Maj. Jaffe’s early years, and so forth. In the hands of a lesser writer, this construct wouldn’t work, but Mr. Jaffe pulls it off with skill and intelligence.”
— Wall Street Journal

” ‘A Curious Madness’ is much more than a narrow portrait of its protagonists. It is also a wider study of their cultures and the collective spirits of their countries before and during World War II.”
— Washington Post

“In stylish, effortless prose, Jaffe plumbs interesting depths—was Okawa an “ideological villain” or a psychological casualty of war? Is madness contagious?—but what he’s really after eludes him.”
— Daily BeastHot Reads: Jan 13, 2014

This week’s “must-read” books: January 11, 2014
New York Post

“For readers who believe the 20th century has been squeezed dry of its secrets, this book is a revelation.”
— The Japan Times

“[The book’s] true complexity reveals itself slowly. Deep into these two men’s stories you find the perennial dilemmas of war and cataclysm— of trauma and its psychological effects, culpability and acknowledging limits of experience and memory in post-hoc discussions.”
Kirkus Review

“Jaffe’s well-researched, engaging story touches on subjects as diverse as the roots of Okawa’s conservative nationalism and the U.S. Army’s theories and treatments for combat fatigue, but most importantly it reveals the strange ways war can bring diverse lives together for a brief moment to change not only those individuals, but history.”
— Publisher’s Weekly

“This gripping book explores not only the Okawa case but also a hidden part of the author’s grandfather’s life. … Highly recommendable to readers of WWII history.”
— Booklist (subscription required)

“Starting with the moment at the 1946 Tokyo counterpart to the Nuremberg trials that brought the two men into contact, Jaffe skillfully shifts back and forth between their stories while filling in the historical context. His narrative is fascinating on multiple levels—not least for a Japanese perspective on the war.”
— John Wilson, Christianity Today