Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Blossom and the Firefly

Smith, Sherri L. The Blossom and the Firefly
February 18th 2020 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Taro is born to a middle class family in Japan, and takes to the violin at a very early age. Hana is the daughter of tailors who live in Chiran, on Kyushu. Her father goes off to fight in the war, and her mother is left to carry on with the business. Taro ends up in flight training, like most young men his age in the early 1940s, and eventually ends up at an air base near Hana, destined to be a kamikaze, or tokko, pilot. Hana's school stops teaching, and after working in the sweet potato fields for a long time and having a close call with a bomb, she is works as a maid at the base. She tries to be as emotionally detached as she can be, knowing that the young men she serves will all fly to their deaths. Life is very hard, and she feels that the bombing in the field is a critical point in her life, and she doesn't allow herself to feel anything about all of the deprivations in her life, including missing her father and his music. Taro is also somewhat detached, preferring his music to the company of the other aviators. He knows that he should tell his family what his fate is destined to be, but finds himself unable to, especially after his mother presents him with a sennibari, a thousand stitch belt his mother managed to get made to protect him in the war.  Taro and Hana eventually have a small moment of recognition as fellow musicians, and when he is supposed to have his last mission, he gives her his violin for safekeeping. When he and another pilot are unable to complete their mission, he returns to the base. Hana and her mother have him to dinner, and the connection between the two of them grows. Eventually, Taro does fly out, and Hana does not find out about the result of his mission, but assumes he is dead. Unbelievably, he crashes but is rescued, and returns home at the end of the war filled with guilt and shame. His mother is glad he survived, but his father does not seem to be. Hana's village changes after the war, and many US soldiers remain in the area. Will Taro and Hana ever find out if the other survived the war?
Strengths: This was a tremendously sad and moving picture of life in Japan during WWII. Like Burkinshaw's The Last Cherry Blossom, this shows how difficult circumstances were. Not only was food scarce and the death toll high, but there are moments of unbelievable loss, like the Battle of Saipan and the suicide of 1,000 civilians in its wake. I've never read anything about the Japanese aviators or the young women who served them, so this was fascinating, and the research is well done. This is certainly a book that makes one feel the complete and utter uselessness of war.
Weaknesses: While I enjoyed the depiction of every day life, this is a bit slow paced for my avid WWII fans who like action and adventure.
What I really think: This is such an unusual portrait of a wartime experience that I will have to buy it for our 8th grade unit, but it will take a mature reader who really likes history to fully appreciate it.

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