"You must always be sure what you're fighting for."
Jan 25, 2009
Tsukiyama returns with a novel that spans pre-World War II Japan, the devastating bombings, occupation and the gradual recovery of a country battered by the forces of war and defeat. As young boys, Kenji and Hiroshi Matsumoto, orphaned grandsons of Yoshio and Fumiko Wada, are early attracted to the lifestyles they will pursue. Hiroshi wants nothing more than to become a sumitori; Kenji dreams of crafting the otherworldly masks used in the Noh Theater as taught by his sensei, Akira Yoshiwara. Watching proudly as their grandsons grow into responsible young men, the threat of impending war interferes with the family's plans for the future, the citizens of the Yanaka district of northeastern Tokyo consumed with surviving ever decreasing rations, old and young males called to serve their country on the front lines. While Kenji's sensei escapes to the mountains and Hiroshi delays his training with the master, Sho Tanaka, people gather in homemade bomb shelters, hoping to survive each new attack.
The eventual bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki throws the country into chaos, Tanaka's wife lost to her children during the conflagration, Aki and Haru returning to their father alone. The wounds are slow to heal after such devastation, but Hiroshi and Kenji renew their separate passions, Hiroshi training diligently, one eye on the growing Aki, Kenji opening his own mask shop, married and content with every aspect of his life but one. Time passes, one generation giving way to another, parents and grandparents bequeathing the future to their children. Finally free of the grief of the past, Kenji and Hiroshi deal with the challenges of every day existence, the small, but painful tragedies and fragile victories that define them in the world. Each is burdened with unexpected loss, relying on family and work to recover. It is in these areas, the particulars of loss and redemption that the author is most proficient.
Although the male characters are more rigidly constructed, guided by the expectations of others and their own dedication to their careers, it is the female characters who most embody change and compassion, the now-widowed, but wise Fumiko, the darkest days of Aki's self-doubt and the loving presence of the faithful Haru, Aki's older sister, who assumed the place of mother when theirs was lost. Set in the culture of sumo, the historic years of war ever present, Tsukiyama's Japan suffers the loss of power and occupation, slowly rebuilding a more modern society. Strength of family and pride of culture sustain the decades, as the characters adapt to a world that is forever changed, loss and renewal the common, sustaining theme of the author's vision. Luan Gaines.
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