A family is destroyed as Japan becomes an imperial power bent on expansion and conquest.
The tone is sentimental, the tale is rare in its detailing of a Japanese family’s reactions to the growing aggression in the years between the two world wars. With the exception of one son-in-law, who heads up an arms factory, most of the characters are idealist, socialist, patriotic, yet antiwar. Taku, the patriarch, is an idealist working for Korea’s independence. He marries teenager Emi, a musically talented beauty, but she is frail and has difficulty bearing children. Eventually, she does have one son, Jun, but her joy in him is tempered by revelations of Taku’s betrayal. Though he’s conscience-stricken about his infidelity, Taku has fallen in love with Hana, a stunning geisha whom he sets up in a separate household, where she gives birth to three daughters, Yumi, Tami, and Kana, and a son, Ken. Emi soon dies, and Taku marries Hana, but as the children grow up and begin to marry, Japan goes to war with China, then with Britain and the US. The family has to cope with these changes as Kana’s husband, a soldier who fought in China, comes back severely traumatized—he and other soldiers having raped and killed innocent Chinese. Jun, now a doctor, with his wife Sayo, tries to save the victims of the frequent bomb attacks that cause deadly fires, and their only son, Shun, is drafted, though he has bad eyesight. Taku, meanwhile, is horrified at what Japan has become, and Hana, who loves beautiful things and sees no point in living, wills herself to die. More deaths follow, in battle or in the bombings that increase as the Japanese retreat. By the time peace comes, the family has few survivors. They have to pick up the pieces.
A compelling first novel, richly textured in its telling.