Friday, June 14, 2019

Love under Difficult Circumstances

It’s always hard to tell why a particular book appeals more than others. Is it the complexity of the characters, the intensity of the conflict, the beauty and expressiveness of the writing, a compelling plot? Could it be a synchronicity with one reader’s mental state and emotional circumstances at the moment when she picks up the book? Or is there some magic combination of all those factors that come together in a way that draws readers in and makes them care?

Certainly an element of chance does play a role. I divide my own reading by stages of alertness, with research in Russian at one end of the continuum and old favorites at the other. When even the old favorites can’t hold my attention, I know it’s me, not the books, and I take refuge in ballet videos on YouTube and movies I’ve seen a dozen times or more.

But whatever the secret, those factors came together for me in The Woman in the White Kimono, the subject of my latest interview with Ana Johns. This remarkable debut novel explores young love, the effects of war, prejudice in various forms, and family secrets hidden for decades. Read on to find out more, then listen to the interview. You won’t regret it.

The rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction


Naoko Nakamura is only seventeen when she falls madly in love with an American navy man. It’s 1957, and the US occupation of Japan has ended just a few years before, leaving bitter memories among the local population. Even though Naoko’s beloved Hajime wants to marry her, her family will have nothing to do with him—in part because they have another husband picked out for her, but also because marriage to an American will cast shame on the entire family. When it becomes clear that Naoko is pregnant, her mother gives her a choice: rid herself of the child or leave the family forever.

More than fifty years later, as Tori Kovac’s father lies dying, she learns he once had, as he puts it, “another life before this one.” Her journey to discover the truth of that other life leads her halfway around the world as she struggles to separate truth from the stories—always dismissed as fiction—that her father told her as she was growing up.

Ten thousand babies were born to Japanese women fathered by US servicemen; the vast majority of them did not survive. The Woman in the White Kimono (Park Row Books, 2019) explains the challenges the children and their mothers faced. Ana Johns tells a story that will linger in your mind long after you turn the last page.

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