The Diplomat's Daughter

January 20, 2018

The Diplomat's Daughter by Karin Tanabe  

 

It's 1938 and Emi Kato's father, a Japanese diplomat, has been assigned to Austria. There, Emi finds a friend in Leo, the only Jewish student remaining enrolled at her new private school. As WWII picks up steam and Hitler invades Austria, Leo is increasingly targeted (as he and Emi's relationship progresses from friendship to intense young love), and eventually he and his family have to flee Austria. They end up leaning heavily on the Kato family for help as their plans to escape to Switzerland fall apart at the border, and Mr Kato is able to arrange them passage to Shanghai. At this same time, the Kato family are pulled from Austria and reassigned to what is then still-neutral Washington D.C.. As the years pass, the US is drawn into the war, and all Japanese diplomats are sent home to Japan. Just prior to getting onto the ship headed for home, Emi falls ill and is diagnosed with tuberculosis. She is not allowed to board the ship for fear of spreading the illness, and convalesces in the US. Until the next ship sails for Japan, months away, Emi and her mother are interned in an internment camp with other Japanese in Texas. I did not know prior to reading this book, that the Japanese were not the only ones interned- Germans suspected of having Nazi ties (however minor the suspicion), and some Italians were interned as well. In the camp, Emi falls for a handsome American with German immigrant parents named Christian who is also interned there. After a few months, Emi's boat departs, and she is returned to Japan with her parents. The situation that greets them is more dire than they had anticipated, with widespread bombing and famine in Tokyo, so Emi's parents decide to send her to live with diplomat friends in the mountains in the countryside. When she arrives, however, she finds them much more elderly than she had expected, and on the brink of starvation themselves, living under the guard of merciless Nazi SS staff (something else I didn't know about- Nazis came to Japan and patrolled even non-military communities- wow). Emi truly grows up in her time living with them, learning to be resourceful and mature to keep them all alive. At this point, the book alternates chapters between Emi, Leo, and Christian, as Leo's family is rounded up into a Jewish ghetto in Shanghai (yet another nugget I learned existed from reading this book!), and Christian joins the US Army instead of being repatriated to Germany with his parents. It seems that a love triangle is building, but as the ending of the book comes into focus, it all works out for Emi and both men, and is a lovely way to end the book. There is enough WWII fiction out there that it has become its own genre, and this book definitely falls into that category, however, I liked it more than many I have read because of its unique viewpoint and examination of the many forms that internment took during WWII. I learned a lot of new things about the camps, and life under guard, by reading this book and then doing some online research to flush out my knowledge. I highly recommend this book to people interested in the topic or who have a love of WWII fiction.

 

Book Review of Origin by Dan Brown

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