I was really ready to like this book from the cover blurb.
My optimism was misplaced. The word usage is extremely pedestrian. I can almost never read a book without making a note of some interesting idea or clever word use. I made not a single notation from the entire novel.
Worst of all is the extremely unrealistic portrayal of a young Japanese woman of that social station and age and time period. Even if her parents allowed her to behave in the manner the book describes, Japanese society never would have.
As an illustration, do some quick research on the current Crown Princess of Japan, who had a similar upbringing, except she is a present-day version of Emiko, when contemporary social conventions are a little more unencumbered. Princess Masako has endured such societal pressure to bend to the social norms of her station, she has suffered extreme emotional distress, to the point where she has seldom even appeared in public since 2002.
Emiko fighting and rising above such tribulations would have been a good story. Instead, Tanabe pretends the real-world societal strictures of Japan barely existed.
Harris’ FATHERLAND, set in historical Nazi Germany, was a tour de force of Alternative History. Thank God, then, that Harris now returns to Germany-in-the-past, this time to offer a book of “faction” focusing on British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s calamitous journey to Munich to appease Hitler and hand over the Czech Sudetenland to the Nazis.
How else could we know the colour of the draperies in each of the rooms the ostensible “protagonist” carries two red boxes from room to room throughout the book, for nothing else new of historical significance nor literary merit is otherwise added.
Downing’s novels are wonderful, dark yet hopeful vignette’s into the evil and ?? of the human soul. This one follows an extended family’s story in the last gasps of Hitler’s Germany. What I like most about Downing is the focus on “small” people and events caught up in the epic fails and Great Men of history. His stories are all the more real for it.