An epic novel about a young Japanese girl during World War II underscores the far-reaching impact that the decisions of others can have.
Epstein (The Painter from Shanghai, 2008), who once lived and worked in Japan, presents a gripping story that centers around Yoshi Kobayashi, the product of an arranged marriage. Her father is a builder of common ancestry, and Hana, her mother, is a British-educated descendant of samurais. Hana doesn’t fit into either world, and her feelings of abandonment are reflected in the way she raises her daughter, who learns three languages and piano at a very early age. Cam, a stutterer who’s worked hard to overcome his disability, is married to his college sweetheart. His dreams of flying come true when he joins the Army Air Force and is assigned to James Doolittle’s squadron. Billy Reynolds has spent his youth in Japan and is keenly aware that he’s different. Fodder for the bullies at school, Billy loves photography, and when he receives a camera for his 12th birthday, he begins to document what he sees. His architect father, Anton, has designed many of the cutting-edge buildings cropping up in prewar Tokyo. But with the advent of war, many things change. The family leaves Japan, and Anton becomes involved in a military project that ultimately destroys what he’s helped create. The author thoughtfully describes the hellish realities of war: the lack of tolerance for, and unwillingness to understand, other cultures; the universal pain of loss and human suffering; the brutality of mankind as lives are torn asunder. She infuses her narrative with many decent, strong characters who, in the end, manage to survive the tragedies of war and build new lives.
Readers, particularly those who enjoy WWII fiction, will appreciate this story.