Starting in 1935 before jumping to 1942 and then onwards through the war and into the aftermath, the reader is introduced to and given background information on several of the interconnected characters in the story. First there is the college-aged Cam Richards as he sits atop a stalled ferris wheel with Lacey, who will become his wife. He is a quiet, sweet, thoughtful, and good looking young man who fought hard to overcome a terrible childhood stutter and the disappointment of his father and whose love of airplanes and the concept of flight will soon lead him to become a pilot. A world away in Japan, architect Anton Reynolds, his wife Beryl, and their sensitive and artistic son Billy are hosting a Japanese couple, master builder Kenji Kobayashi, his glamorous, London-educated wife Hana and their young daughter Yoshi, who will become the center through whom all the other characters connect. Anton is living and working in Japan designing major public buildings in Tokyo. Seduced by the Japanese aesthetic as much as by the lost and depressed Hana, he becomes an expert in Japanese building while Kenji Kobayashi builds Anton's visions and then takes his knowledge to Manchuria after the Japanese invasion there, leaving Yoshi and Hana behind.
In 1942, after participating in the foolhardy Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, Cam Richards, whose newly pregnant wife anxiously awaits him at home, has to bail out of his plane. His discovery, unconscious in a field in Manchuria, by Kenji Kobayashi starts weaving the connections between all of the characters until the war has wrapped them all in a terrible web of conflict, hatred, and destruction. Through the ensuing two decades, the characters all play their parts in the war, from Anton who builds Japanese tenaments in the Utah desert to help the US perfect its firebombing raids to Kenji who builds Japanese villages in occupied Manchuria using captured Chinese workers, from Yoshi who survives the horror of firebombing but loses everyone she cares about to Billy who is sent to Japan in the immediate aftermath of the war as a translator and who hides a crippling secret of his own.
Epstein has created an unflinching look at the devastation wrought by war both physically and emotionally through the lives of her characters. She captures the lost innocence, the brutality and inhumanity of war, the way that person turns against person, friend against friend, country against country. But she's also tapped into the human component and the strain on conscience when planning or carrying out the atrocities of war. There are varying perspectives on rightness and whether everything is in fact fair in war plus the impact it all takes on the various characters. She doesn't shy away from the horrors but in the end, allows several of her characters to achieve resolution and grace. Thoroughly researched and exquisitely rendered, this is a gripping look at the cost both in people and in place that we extract over and over again when we go to war. World War II buffs and other historical fiction lovers will enjoy this gripping and conflicted look at our not too distant past.
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Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.