After a crazy week where I barely had time to eat and read, let alone blog, I am delighted to be back with a review of The Diplomat’s Daughter by Karin Tanabe. This beautifully written story effortlessly transported me back in time and around the world in a gripping and emotional tale of love, survival, and loyalty in the Second World War.
Title: The Diplomat’s Daughter
Author: Karin Tanabe
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Expected Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Themes: WWII, Internment Camps, Survival
My Rating: 5/ 5
During the turbulent months following the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, twenty-one-year-old Emi Kato, the daughter of a Japanese diplomat, is locked behind barbed wire in a Texas internment camp. She feels hopeless until she meets handsome young Christian Lange, whose German-born parents were wrongfully arrested for un-American activities. Together, they live as prisoners with thousands of other German and Japanese families, but discover that love can bloom in even the bleakest circumstances.
When Emi and her mother are abruptly sent back to Japan, Christian enlists in the US Army, with his sights set on the Pacific front—and, he hopes, a reunion with Emi—unaware that her first love, Leo Hartmann, the son of wealthy of Austrian parents and now a Jewish refugee in Shanghai, may still have her heart.
Fearful of bombings in Tokyo, Emi’s parents send her to a remote resort town in the mountains, where many in the foreign community have fled. Cut off from her family, struggling with growing depression and hunger, Emi repeatedly risks her life to help keep her community safe—all while wondering if the two men she loves are still alive.
As Christian Lange struggles to adapt to life as a soldier, his unit pushes its way from the South Pacific to Okinawa, where one of the bloodiest battles of World War II awaits them. Meanwhile, in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, as Leo fights to survive the squalor of the Jewish ghetto, a surprise confrontation with a Nazi officer threatens his life. For each man, Emi Kato is never far from their minds.
Hope, war, tragedy, love… what more could you hope for in a work of historical fiction? I was absolutely enamoured by The Diplomat’s Daughter, Tanabe’s attention to detail, and the depiction of the events that are too often left out of capital H ‘History’. Beautiful and heart wrenching the narrative seamlessly blends geographically disparate settings, multiple viewpoints, and raw emotion in a way that brings the story to life and stokes the fires of the imagination.
I’m normally not a huge fan of having more than one or two narrators to carry a story, as they are normally cluttered and difficult to follow, but the use of three really allowed for a wholistic and conflicted view of the war. I appreciated that all of the characters occupied grey spaces in the societal structures that were constructed during WWII, and also how the division of the story between Emi, Leo, and Christian took the reader around the world as well as providing snapshots into marginalized and dissonant perspectives.
I was particularly struck by the depiction of the treatment and trading of foreign nationals and Americans in internment camps across the US. While I knew that many Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans had been interred, I knew very little about the arrest and internment of those with German and Italian backgrounds, and nothing at all about the arrest and exchange of persons residing in Latin America. My heart broke again and again with each story and each voyage, especially knowing that this fictionalized depiction represents only a glimpse of the conditions and despair that internees faced.
Of all the characters presented, I was most touched by Christian’s story as despite the fact that he faced horrible atrocities and unwarranted persecution, he stayed true to his promises and acted both honourably and honestly to the best of his ability. I felt terrible for Leo, and the choices that he had to make, and even understand and support them, I just wish that he hadn’t;t hidden behind his father in end. Also, I loved Keiko! While Emi was a wonderfully strong and independent young woman, the blending of traditional and modern values in Keiko in a time of rigid social customs created a unique and intriguing character. More than anything, I wanted to know more of her story – how exciting and interesting would it be to be the wife of a diplomat through not one, but two, world wars?
Ultimately though, the Diplomat’s Daughter is a touching and emotional exploration of what it means to be human, to make moral choices even if they run against the dominant ideology, and what it means to love in a time of war. I believed every moment, every emotion, and found myself constantly rooting for these three underdogs. Any crying… lets not forget the crying, but I do love a book that gets me right in the feels.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Not only is this a beautifully written and engaging story, but it offers a healthy does of history. The blending of fact with fiction is so seamless, and I hope that it inspires readers to explore the history of the Crystal City internment camp and the exchange of ‘Enemy Aliens’ for American POWs.
Many thanks to Karin Tanabe and Washington Square Press for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.