Picador; New York, NY
I absolutely loved this book. It’s been featured on our main library bookshelf for several months now, but I didn’t pick up because of the cover. It looked slightly like a romance novel, and I wasn’t in the mood for that.
The book contains one major character-Hiroko Tanaka, a Japanese woman, who survives the bombing of Nagasaki-and the characters that come into and from her life. We follow her to India, Pakistan and finally the United States. Hiroko is the thread that ties the second atom bomb to Guatanamo Bay, and shows the ripple effect of wars fought by Americans on non-American land. We learn about her fiancé, his sister and brother in law, their servants, son and grandchild as well as Hiroko’s husband and son. The characters are incredibly deep and the author makes them understood. As we learn who Hiroko is, and as time lengthens after the bombing, we see the complex emotions Hiroko experiences and we see how those experiences translate in the people who love her.
The book opens a few hours before the bomb is dropped on Nagasaki. Hiroko and Konrad are in love, despite differences in culture, language and the period. Konrad is a German in a type of exile in Japan. We learn quickly that his brother in law, James, has asked him to stay in Japan until the end of the war. Hiroko is hired as an interpreter and her relationship with Konrad quickly grows into love. Konrad asks her to marry him on August 9, 1945. The rest of Hiroko’s life is lived under the umbrella of this tragedy. I don’t want to give away the story line because it is very well written, and worth being surprised.
The overall theme of this book is that life is sacred. To be honest, I was angry when I ended, mostly because of the last chapter. It took my breath away, describing the random occurrences that could place someone on a terrorist watch list. It’s a reality faced by thousands of people from Afghanistan and Pakistan. It did not leave room for a sequel, at least I don’t think the author intended it that way, but it leaves me with the hope of seeing these characters again. The end is so heartbreaking that I kept expecting a final chapter. One in which the characters triumph and overcome a lifetime of difficulties. I wanted the characters to be real, so that I could help them triumph.