The Blossom and the Firefly
Japan, 1945. After being buried alive in the wake of enemy bombings, Hana has become a ghost of herself. At 15, her class serves as maids to the warriors of Japan. They mend clothes, serve food, and wave goodbye to the kamikaze pilots. Hana’s is one of the last faces they’ll see in life.
Growing up, Taro loves to play violin. But after Japan’s victory at Pearl Harbor, Taro enters Youth Pilot School. He will bring honor to his country and his family by volunteering to be a tokko pilot, also known as kamikaze. Before his final mission, he meets Hana. The war should keep them apart, but a love of music will bring together two people with vastly different fates.
Hana and Taro are two young people who come together in a dangerous and confusing time. To die for the emperor is a great honor in their culture. The tokko pilots know death is coming and face it bravely. Hana almost died but feels ashamed. She was afraid during the experience and has lost a piece of herself. Through Taro, while he’s bound to die, she finds a new way to live.
It’s hard to imagine these situations, but Smith does a superb job making the situations and characters relatable. The prose artfully gives life to the setting and sentiments, making mundane daily tasks come alive with vivid personalities. The stark contrast between Hana’s and Taro’s lives is a hauntingly beautiful chord playing in the background to Smith’s rich, elegant narration. Like a classical music score, you appreciate the final moments more because of the crescendoing waves of prose that build to a satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended.