- - Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pick of the Pack

Exhibit: ‘Samurai, the Warrior Transformed’

During World War II, a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania named Chiune Sugihara signed thousands of Japanese visas for Polish Jews who had lined up outside his embassy, desperate to escape the Nazi purge. Sugihara’s superiors had told him to stay out of the conflict, but his samurai honor told him otherwise. The military history of Japan’s samurai is book-ended not by violence, but by diplomacy and civil service. The class’ origins date back to the eighth century, when samurai were civil bureaucrats, and not yet warriors. In the early 20th century when Japan had fully embraced modern warfare, the samurai would return to their civil roots. “Samurai: The Warrior Transformed,” at National Geographic explores the nonmilitary roles of the samurai throughout Japan’s history. In a way, the samurai have always had two roles. The country’s first trade agreement with Mexico, for instance, was struck by a shipwrecked Mexican diplomat named Rodrigo de Vivero and a Japanese shogun — in 1609.

Closes Sunday at the National Geographic Society, 1145 17th St. NW

Phone: 202/857-7588

Jeff Shaara is now out with his latest historical novel set in ... more >

Web: events.nationalgeographic.com

Author talk: Jeff Shaara

Michael Shaara, author of “The Killer Angels,” left some big boots for his son, Jeff, to fill. The elder Shaara’s historical novel about the battle at Gettysburg was adapted and made into a critically praised film. So Shaara the younger wrote not only a prequel to his father’s novel (“Gods and Generals,” which also was adapted), but a sequel, “The Last Full Measure.” Mr. Shaara then turned his attention to other wars. But he just couldn’t stay away from America’s defining war, and is now out with “A Blaze of Glory,” about the Battle of Shiloh. This isn’t exactly new territory — John Shelby Foote wrote about Shiloh more than 20 years ago. But newness isn’t what makes Mr. Shaara’s Civil War tomes bestsellers. Instead, it’s the depth of the characters (both conscripts and commanders) and the intense humanity of the battles. As for why Mr. Shaara returned to the War Between the States after a long break: He said in a recent interview that fans of his work were tired of hearing about Robert E. Lee. So “A Blaze of Glory,” as well as the two novels to follow (it’s a trilogy, naturally) are set in the war’s western theater.

Mr. Shaara reads Thursday at the National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW

Phone: 202/633-3030

Web: smithsonianassociates.org

Exhibit: ‘Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women’

After nearly two centuries of conventional memoirs (starting, of course, with “Walden Pond”), it was only a matter of time before the genre jumped its own boundaries. In 2000, Marjane Satrapi gave us “Persepolis,” a memoir in the form of a graphic novel that told the story of her coming of age in Iran during the revolution. Then it was like a dam broke: In quick succession we got Craig Thompson’s “Blankets,” Jeffrey Brown’s “Clumsy,” David Smalls’ “Stitches.” The graphic-novel memoir now has its own subgenres, one of which is on display at the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery. The exhibit title “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women” is a play on words. “Graphic” stands for the medium (this is what serious people call serious comic books), as well as the content of some of the comics. But it’s not all NC-17. Sarah Lightman’s work, for instance, is familial and funny, such as her rendering of a bag of oatcakes with the caption, “Oatcakes fill the silence when my friends don’t call.”

Through Sept. 2 at the Washington District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW

Phone: 202/518-9400

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