Post-war Japan is occupied by America, and everyone’s world has changed. In the middle of the chaos General MacArthur invites the populace to write to him with any problems they have, and the letters pour in. Amongst them a letter from Fumi, translated by her Canadian-Japanese friend Aya, about her lost sister. Gradually people of all different backgrounds get pulled into the story and the hunt for Fumi’s big sister.
This book manages at once to portray a snapshot of Japanese history and also be compelling reading. I loved the sense of the moment in time that built up through all the different character’s viewpoints, and their individual stories as a part of the whole story of the nation. This is historical fiction done very well!
The story is told through the viewpoint of many different characters, all of whom relate to the American occupation in different ways, allowing us to view the situation from many angles, creating a picture that is composite. For me it is useful that there are characters who are from America and Canada, as their viewpoint is similar to mine and allows me to engage easily what is going on.
The story of Fumi and her sister emerges very slowly, but really it seems to be a central device to pull the rest of the characters together. It is still nevertheless captivating, and you are rooting for their reunion all the way. The themes within it are replicated elsewhere; we hear repeatedly of GIs mistreating dancing girls, of hopes and lies, of the desperation of the Japanese people. This heightens the suspense as we become very aware of what could have happened to her.
Interestingly, this plot does not grow more and more important or tense as the book continues; doesn’t reach some crazy peak but is almost surpassed in the interest of ordinary life. It feels a bit like the set up of the book is let down by the ending; but I found that I didn’t mind. I’m all for books being like life sometimes.
Sadly, we don’t get the perspective of any fully American occupiers. All of the characters we read about are sympathetic and good. This is not necessarily bad but it would perhaps be interesting to see some other viewpoints too.At first when reading I thought the language was over descriptive, but I think as I got into the book I either stopped noticing or it got better!
If highly recommend this book and have already given copies to two of my friends!
Thanks so much to the publishers for my review copy, it is very appreciated though of course has no bearing on my review.