reviews

Isolated Connected Kyushu Island

KIRKUS REVIEW

Spanning nearly 60 years, this work of historical fiction chronicles the multitude of cultural changes in Japan after World War II from the perspective of a conflicted family of three.

Labeled a “half-fiction” by its author, Yumiko’s debut takes place in postwar Japan, depicting a once-militaristic country rushing toward Western modernization. Hisaharu and his wife, Misao, (based on the author’s own parents) face great hardship in this new, ever shifting culture, both having grown up in small villages before the fall of Japan’s militarism in which their own ancestors’ histories had only begun to transform into legends. They have one child, a reserved girl named Jericho, and the family finds itself regularly uprooted by Hisaharu’s poorly paying position in Japan’s new, stigmatized Defense Force. Paralleling the family, Japan itself remains unsettled, with communism spreading rapidly among its neighbors while Western ideas conflicting with the shriveling tenants of traditional lifestyle begin to alter views on religion, agriculture, and the roles of women in this new society. The novel deftly limns its protagonist; though Hisaharu’s life is used as the story’s framing device, it still portrays him realistically—a thoughtful but not unimpeachable devourer of books with a work ethic cultivated from traditional thinking. Misao is also tied to the past. Her upbringing during wartime grants her spirit and inner strength while at the same time limiting her ability to adjust to new times. And when her parents’ stubbornness gets somewhat tiresome, Jericho subtly changes tack. Even characters who appear fleetingly—an ill-prepared American missionary, a sexually broken classmate, a disheveled teacher, and so many more—both accentuate and stand separate from Japanese history. Those unfamiliar with postwar Japan will find the story approachable and informative with its engaging core centered on the difficulties of raising a child in a changing world.

An impressive use of one family to intimately portray the history of social and cultural changes over three generations.

Readers' Favorite

Reviewed by Julie Hodgson for Readers' Favorite

This part fiction novel starts in 1944 with the story of a young boy, whose life is changed forever by the war. The passion and heartfelt sorrow one feels when a war takes away sons to fight a war no one understands or even in fact wants to fight for... Do they come back? Or is it straight to the heavens for them? We continue the journey of this family living on Kyushu Island (the third largest island of Japan and most south-westerly of its four main islands), from the 1940s to 2004. This story is interconnected with many people and their journeys through the difficult times on this island, with always other forces wanting to take over, manipulate their islands and the ones surrounding them. Such is the greed for power. Hisaharu's life takes a different turn when he goes to high school, starts meeting different people and, best of all, gets access to books.

Hana da Yumiko's Isolated Connected Kyushu Island is delightfully peppered with history, from samurai warriors to WW2 and onward to the 21st century, following her ancestors. The story reads like a fiction novel, though it is a well documented and footnoted partly true story. Anticipation catches you unawares as you follow Hisaharu and his family, thus making it a page-turner that keeps you immersed in the history, cultural differences, and historical/life events that run through the entire book. Isolated Connected Kyushu Island tells a story of the transition from the ending of the age of the samurai to the rise of the military might and finally to a thriving democracy after so many years of invasions and religious control which continually affected the lives of Hisaharu and his family. This story educates as well as inspires you. Books like these are precious, giving us an insight into family life, but also showing us the struggle to gain a foothold and hang on to our democracy without losing too much along the way. A very enjoyable read; indeed one that you should have on your shelf to read again and again.

 

blueink review

This three-generational story, based on the author’s family, traces the experiences of a Japanese family and a country emerging from the effects of WWII. Although it begins in 1945 just prior to the war’s end, the story encompasses early history, culture and mythologies of the then remote islands surrounding Japan’s mainland.

In 1945, Hisaharu is a boy hiding in a cave with his parents as the American bombers fly overhead. After one plane crashes, Hisaharu sees the dead pilot, causing him to wonder how his brother Ichiro, also a pilot, had looked when he died. A flashback briefly focuses on Ichiro: his fears about sacrificing all for his country, and his father’s fury at the politicians and media advocating war. The father’s anti-war beliefs become a vehicle for Ichiro to explain Japan’s many invaders over the centuries.

Family grief turns into a nation’s grief after the atomic bomb destroys entire cities and faith in the traditional gods. Hisaharu then experiences many changes during the American occupation, including the blackout of all references to war and patriotism in textbooks.

With no future on his father’s small farm, Hisaharu attempts to continue his education. He also enters into an arranged marriage, but his early war experiences and career in the Defense Force make him a stern, disciplined man in contrast to his young wife, a talkative, emotional woman. This creates persistent tension in the home where their only daughter, Jericho, grows up rebellious, not understanding her parents’ history and seemingly outdated views.

Although momentum lags near the end, this poignant story is an authentic tale of human resilience amidst the toppling of centuries’-old beliefs. The occasional flashes of stilted English language only lend realism to the work. Readers identify with the bewilderment at the rapid pace of change from the American occupation.

Overall, this is an intriguing book that will prove illuminating for anyone interested in the war’s impact on the Japanese people.


Inazumi Limestone Cave in roth Kyushu

CEO

Kurenai the Crimson 1865

KIRKUS REVIEW

A Christian, an outcast ninja, and a courtesan—outsiders in late samurai-era Nagasaki—seek new life in this historical novella.

By 1865, Christianity has spread to Japan in small pockets, and Rutu keeps the faith in secret as she searches for her sister Suzu, who has become an oiran, a kind of courtesan-entertainer. Meanwhile, Suzu’s hymns inspire her compatriot Kurenai and remind her of Naomi, an early mentor; but the songs and prayers aren’t quite enough to distract Kurenai from her woeful life in the brothel. Finally, the teenage boy Jin, an escaped ninja from a nearby region, ends up in Rutu’s care after washing up on Nagasaki’s shore. It’s Jin who later saves Kurenai from the bandits who attack her “litter” and murder Kanayama, the man who bought her for company. Once the three unite—Suzu’s plot takes her to another island and a happy ending—they begin a journey down dangerous roads in search of Jin’s mother. Yumiko’s (Isolated Connected Kyu-shu Island, 2013) handling of this three-pronged plot is sometimes effective and swift, jumping from scene to scene at just the right moments. However, many of the novella’s scenes are too brief, and the lengthy gaps of time between scenes often make for confusing storytelling. Yumiko shows off solid research, which enables her to effectively narrate a unique historical moment. Yet the result is a flat read due to repeated failures to allow readers to come to their own conclusions: “Rutu and Jin sensed that they were different, yet they were both minorities.” Still, Yumiko’s strong grasp of setting and plot suggests plenty of potential for future works.

Needs more flesh on its bones, though extensive research and complex plots are signs of good things to come.