Have you ever picked up a book just for the setting, even if the plot sounds atrocious? Well, I have a few times and this book in one example. I happen to love stories set during the two World Wars, and especially those featuring Asian cultures in a meaningful way. So, while this is essentially a romance (which I tend to avoid like the plague), I just had to give this book a read.
Released on July 11th, 2017, this story set during WWII follows three young people tied in a sort of love triangle—Japanese diplomat’s daughter Emi Kato, American-born German Christian Lange, and Jewish Austrian Leo Hartmann—as they attempt to survive through the war and have to relocate several times. Thus, the story is set in as distinct locations as Texas, Wisconsin, Vienna, Tokyo, and Shanghai. The book is told from all three perspectives, and divided into three parts.
For being essentially a historical romance, I was surprised how much I liked this book. One of the reasons that it is so good is that is shows many different settings of the war. We see Japanese/German internment camps in America, we see the arrival of Hitler in Vienna, and we see the dangerous life of living in Japan when both the Japanese and German soldiers nearly starved the people with rationing.
I will say the monotonous scenes did wear on me a bit (who cares about how Emi eats her lunch for two pages?), but for the most part the pacing was very good later on in the book.
Honestly, the first part of the book is really boring. I’ll get to characters in a minute, but mostly the first part is Emi being bored with her life, Christian developing a concerning crush on her within an internment camp, and them engaging in an affair (by the way, that’s not a spoiler, as the info on the back of the book states this happens). It just feels so slow-moving. And yet, once we hit part two, I was actually happy I stuck around.
It’s really nice to see how the regular person saw the war, especially as we get the different perspectives of a Japanese, German, and Jew. The ending really impressed me as well (I’ll get more into that in the spoiler section), as it is both bittersweet and satisfying.
Now, let’s get to the things I really didn’t like in the book: the characters.
Emi was, by far, the most annoying character at all. She was selfish, immature, and seemed completely unaware about the true realities of the world. I will admit, she did get a little bit more tolerable in the last part, as she endured practical starvation in Japan. However, for most of the time she cared little how her selfish actions affected others (again, I’ll get more detailed into this in the spoiler section).
Christian and Leo are essentially the same people just in different situations. They are young, easily entranced by Emi, seemingly sheltered but impetuous young men. When I read their chapters, I could have easily thought that they were clones of each other if I did not know the context. I just wish that their characters had been more distinct.
As for the other characters, I really thought the majority of the background people were just there to be foils (opposites) or accessories to the main characters. Even the surrounding people that I liked (like Clair, the Australian woman Emi befriends in Japan) were just kind of flat and one-dimensional. If they’d been more real, I might have liked this book so much better.
Now, unto the spoilers.
Spoilers Ahead!!! (You have been warned)
My biggest pet-peeve was, by far, Emi. Okay, so let me set the scene for you. She meets Leo in Austria and they fall in love, before her diplomat father is forced to move his family to America. However, Leo rarely leaves her thoughts. In America, after Pearl Harbor, Emi’s father is sent back to Japan and she and her mother are forced to move into an internment camp due to the face that Emi had tuberculosis and could not be moved. It is there she befriends Christian, who develops a crush on her.
Now, keep in mind she still claims to love Leo, and yet she seems to have no guilt any time in the book with engaging in an affair with Christian. This shows to me that she never really loved Leo (it was simply lust) and that the same will probably happen to Christian after the story ends. Speaking the story, the ending works out just because Leo falls in love and marries ex-dancer Agatha in Shanghai and Christian and Emi are reunited in Japan. However, I’m betting in a few years Emi will have moved on to another guy. She’s just that selfish.
The only point in the story where she acted with any sense was in the second part, Chapter 16, where Leo dragged her out to witness Hitler arriving in Vienna and she begged him to go home and keep safe. But still, she was as much worried around herself as him, so even that scene wasn’t completely unselfishly motivated.
Another thing that bothered me was the traumatic part in part two where Emi is practically raped by three German boys (luckily she is saved at the very end by the not-so-nice Nazi sympathizer Kersten) and yet I see no reaction from Emi. Rape, especially one so brutal as that one, would give anyone (male or female) deep psychological traumas. One reaction might be that they don’t want to be touched or have issues being romantic with anyone. But Emi has no reaction whatsoever, and continues living her life as if nothing happened. That scene just did not seem realistic to me.
One thing I really did adore (while we’re on the topic of trauma) was the issues Christian had with coping with killing people after he joins the American military. He goes to Japan in hopes of finding Emi, only to engage in fierce battles. At one point he even accidentally kills an innocent woman and feels horrible. I wish there were more traumatic reactions like the ones Christian experiences.
Another pet peeve of mine was that several characters’ names were so similar, like Jiro, Jin, and Jack. I could barely differentiate background characters as it was, especially as none of them really showed different reactions. In fact, I probably couldn’t tell you one of the background character’s names or identities even now (and I just finished the book last night at the time I’m writing this). They just did not stand out.
Despite my critiques, I really did enjoy the majority of this book. The pacing and plot was well-written, and I was certainly never bored. The characters could have been so much better, but the book itself was not bad.
As I said before, I liked the ending, as everyone ended up happy (at least for now). Christian and Emi were reunited and even Leo discovered a new love (or he was forced to marry her because she got pregnant…whichever).
So, it’s a good book, but definitely not a great book.
If you’ve read this book, let me know your thoughts? If not, are you interested in reading it? Let me know down in the comments and, as always,
Best wishes on your life full of adventure,