The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns is a beautifully written book based on a real life story. It is set in both 1957 and the present day.
In 1957 we meet Naoko Nakamura, a seventeen year old girl in Japan who is deeply in love with ‘Hajime’ (Jimmy) an American Sailor. They both want to marry but Naoko finds this difficult as her family who are middle class but have fallen on hard times since the end of the war, would be disgusted with her marrying a man who in their eyes is still very much the enemy. Instead, they want her to marry Satoshi, an heir to the Toshiba clan who will solidify their middle class aspirations and help them to get their business running successfully again.
In the present day we follow the story of Tori Kovac and her father who is dying from cancer. Tori remembers her father’s stories from when she was younger. These stories were about his travels in Japan and were interwoven with Japanese myth and legends. She discovers a letter that reveals that her father’s stories may well have been more than mere fiction and travels to Japan to find out more about his time there and unlock the mysteries of his past.
The book is stunningly written and it is a very emotional read. The settings are very well evoked, you feel as if you are there with the characters in Japan and the author certainly knows her way around the country or else is an excellently talented writer! The characters are strong and parts of Naoko’s story and that of her friends’ in the maternity home scenes are heartbreaking. It is even more astonishing to read the real life stories of what went on at the end of the book. It certainly brought to my attention a fragment of history that should be more well known, especially as it has current resonance around the world with women’s reproductive rights being curtailed. For this point alone, this book should be read as it was very revelatory and educational and once again, Legend Press should be congratulated for highlighting important issues such as these. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but think it deserves saying again!
If you are a fan of Japan, historical fiction or just wonderfully written stories that have a deep emotional connection, then I highly recommend that you read this book.