In this incandescent novel, readers are introduced to characters who at first blush are deeply foreign: Japanese, their lives unspooling in the waning years of World War II, when the Emperor was still Divine and Americans an unfathomable evil.
Hana is a young woman conscripted to tend to the tokkō, better known to Americans as kamikaze pilots; Taro is a tokkō. Their stories unfold gently, in alternating chapters, Hana’s own near-death experience leaving her feeling that she’s moving through her days as a ghost, her soldier father at war, her mother unaware that Hana is spending the war sending young men off to their deaths.
Taro is a talented young violinist who wants desperately to live up to the example set by his aeronautical engineer father; pilot training was a dream come true, but when Japan’s fortunes turn and Taro and a beloved friend are conscripted to the tokkō, the bleak horror that had been building comes to define his life and fill his heart. A chance encounter with Hana leads to a connection fragile and sustaining, rooted and growing from their attachment to the music Taro is able to conjure on his violin, and Hana plays on her father’s traditional koto.
There is tragedy here and unspeakable aching, but also human attachment and depths of love that are shared across oceans and time. Classed as a Young Adult novel, I can’t recommend this remarkable book highly enough for anyone over the age of 12.