Sword and Blossom

Written by Momoko WilliamsWritten by Peter Pagnamenta

Sword and Blossom is subtitled “A British Officer’s Enduring Love for a Japanese Woman,” but in light of what Arthur Hart-Synnot actually does to his Japanese love, one can’t help wishing the authors had been a little less dispassionate, and had actually examined that crucial decision in Cannes in 1919. Why did Arthur do what he did? The authors skate round the reasons, and their lack of analysis spoils an otherwise excellent book.

The story is based on the 800 letters Arthur sent Masa, his Japanese love, whom he met in Tokyo in 1905. Stationed there to learn Japanese and how the Japanese army worked, now that Japan was Britain’s ally, the Captain soon enjoyed a Japanese social life, met Masa, and set up home with her. Much research went into the book, and it is worth reading for the detailed information about Anglo-Japanese history, life in Japan, the life of a British officer in the early 20th century, and the Irish problem as seen from an Anglo-Irish family like the Hart-Synnots.

As for the “love” story. Was it doomed from the start by class, race and prejudice, or was it a grand romance that shone like a bright star despite wars and racial prejudice? The authors haven’t decided, so you need to make up your own mind after you’ve read the book, and weigh the evidence yourself.