In Ohno’s debut novel inspired by true events, an American soldier must convince a group of Japanese holdouts on a remote island that World War II has ended.
In 1991, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. James B. Johnson is enjoying a pleasant retirement in Florida after a long career in the military; however, he finds himself haunted by an incident that occurred several years after the end of World War II. In the spring of 1944, two Japanese supply ships, the Hyosukemaru and the Akebonomaru, embarked on a journey from Yokohama, Japan, to Truk, part of the Caroline Islands in the South Pacific. But as the ships approached the island of Anatahan, they faced an American air attack. Survivors from the two ships made their way to the island; a group from a third ship, the Kaihomaru, soon joined them. With the war still raging and little hope of rescue, the group, which included soldiers, sailors and a woman named Kazuko Higa, struggled to survive under harsh conditions. Years passed, and in 1950, the group was still there, unwilling to accept that the war was over and Japan had surrendered. After U.S. forces’ attempts to convince the holdouts failed, Johnson crafted a plan that he hoped would encourage them to leave. Ohno’s engaging narrative offers a complex portrait of both Johnson and the castaways, alternating the U.S. soldier’s story with those of the Japanese survivors. Through extended flashbacks, letters and military reports, the novel explores multiple perspectives, helping readers understand the reasons why the survivors remained. Giles Murray’s crisp translation from the Japanese keeps the frequent shifts in time and perspective clear and understandable. Although Johnson’s memories provide the novel’s basic framework, the heart of the story belongs to Kazuko, the only female survivor. Her story is harrowing but compelling, as she’s forced by circumstances to use any available means to survive.
An appealing historical novel of World War II.