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IN A TRIANGLE OF WESTERN INFLUENCE, COMMUNISM AND LEGENDS

An impressive use of one family to intimately portray the history of social and cultural changes over three generations.

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Spanning nearly 60 years, this work of historical fiction chronicles the multitude of cultural changes in Japan after World War II from the perspective of a conflicted family of three.

Labeled a “half-fiction” by its author, Yumiko’s debut takes place in postwar Japan, depicting a once-militaristic country rushing toward Western modernization. Hisaharu and his wife, Misao, (based on the author’s own parents) face great hardship in this new, ever shifting culture, both having grown up in small villages before the fall of Japan’s militarism in which their own ancestors’ histories had only begun to transform into legends. They have one child, a reserved girl named Jericho, and the family finds itself regularly uprooted by Hisaharu’s poorly paying position in Japan’s new, stigmatized Defense Force. Paralleling the family, Japan itself remains unsettled, with communism spreading rapidly among its neighbors while Western ideas conflicting with the shriveling tenants of traditional lifestyle begin to alter views on religion, agriculture, and the roles of women in this new society. The novel deftly limns its protagonist; though Hisaharu’s life is used as the story’s framing device, it still portrays him realistically—a thoughtful but not unimpeachable devourer of books with a work ethic cultivated from traditional thinking. Misao is also tied to the past. Her upbringing during wartime grants her spirit and inner strength while at the same time limiting her ability to adjust to new times. And when her parents’ stubbornness gets somewhat tiresome, Jericho subtly changes tack. Even characters who appear fleetingly—an ill-prepared American missionary, a sexually broken classmate, a disheveled teacher, and so many more—both accentuate and stand separate from Japanese history. Those unfamiliar with postwar Japan will find the story approachable and informative with its engaging core centered on the difficulties of raising a child in a changing world.

An impressive use of one family to intimately portray the history of social and cultural changes over three generations.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-1490863399

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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