The Translation of Love * * * by Lynne Kutsukake is a story of loyalty and identity, family and friendship, love and loss set in American occupied Japan at the end of World War II.
Bitter over their internment at a Canadian internment camp, 13 year-old Aya Shimamura and her widowed father chose to allow the government to "deport" them to Japan once they learned that they would be barred from returning home to Vancouver. They were however, ill-prepared for what awaited them in war-devastated Tokyo.
While her father struggles to find work, Aya, the "repat girl" is bullied at school for being foreign and unable to speak Japanese. Her chief tormentor, a willful girl named Fumi Tanaka relents once she realizes Aya, being fluent in English, could be enlisted to help find her missing older sister Sumiko by writing to General MacArthur. It doesn’t take long before the two develop a tenuous friendship.
Aya's letter lands in the reluctant hands of Corporal Matt Matsumoto, a Japanese American whose job is to translate the thousands of letters the General receives each week. Meanwhile, the girls' English teacher Mr. Kondo moonlights in "Love Letter Alley" where he writes and translates letters between the Ginza bar girls and their GI boyfriends. After fruitlessly waiting for results for some weeks, Fumi and Aya decide to take matters into their own hands, venturing into the dark and dangerous underside of Tokyo’s Ginza district, where the interlocking storylines and the search of Sumiko converge.
"The Translation of Love mines this turbulent period to show how war irrevocably shapes the lives of people on both sides—and yet the novel also allows for a poignant spark of resilience, friendship, and love that translates across cultures and borders to stunning effect." An excellent choice for readers who loved Jamie Ford's The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka.
Meticulously researched, Lilac Girls * by Martha Hall Kelly is based on the true story of three women affected by the horrors of Ravensbruck, Hitler's all-female concentration camp.
Manhattan, 1939. Caroline Ferriday, a former debutante and a Broadway actress volunteers at the French consulate in New York, assisting refugees, raising funds while, against her better judgment, getting involved with Paul, a charming (and married) French actor. Across the Atlantic, as Hitler invades her hometown of Lublin, Kasia Kuzmerick (loosely based on Nina Iwanska), a Catholic teenager joins the resistance until she is captured and sent to Ravensbruck. There, she encounters Herta Oberheuser, a Nazi doctor assigned to help execute inmates and perform medical experiments on prisoners, including Kasia. These women, many permanently maimed become known as the “Rabbits.”
Caroline, tasked with keeping track of the concentration camp network for the consulate, learns about the "Rabbits" and travels to Europe after the war to strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.
"(Kelly) vividly evokes not only the horrors of the gruesome experiments but also the painful realities of trying to survive them and the difficult search for justice and closure afterward." Will appeal strongly to historical fiction readers who enjoyed Kristin Hannah The Nightingale and Anthony Doerr's All the Lights We Cannot See.
* * * = 3 starred reviews
* = starred review