Wednesday, February 4, 2015

No Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler & Blizzard Photos

A Japanese soldier hiding on a tropical island for 18 years after Word War II ended? That sounds like pure fiction, but No Surrender Soldier was inspired by a true story. American author Christine Kohler has lived in both Japan and Guam. Her firsthand knowledge brings an historical incident to life with fictional characters. This engaging young adult novel would make a marvelous supplement to the history classroom, as it touches on both World War II and the Vietnam War.

No Surrender Soldier is set in 1972 on the Island of Guam (a US territory.) Fifteen-year-old Kiko chases a baseball into the jungle and finds a Japanese soldier hiding in a cave. His family history makes the encounter all the more horrific: during World War II, a Japanese soldier raped his mother, and now Kiko's brother is missing in action in Vietnam. Kiko is torn between his desire for revenge and his empathy for the old soldier. He's a believably impulsive teenager who hungers to be a man. This is a coming of age story with solid values.

What I loved best about No Surrender Soldier was how it treated the Japanese and Guam cultures with even-handed respect while acknowledging the atrocities of war. Kiko is native to Guam but his best friend is Japanese. Tourists from Japan help his family's business. The story is told in alternating chapters so that we can see inside the Japanese soldier's head and empathize with his harrowing struggle for survival. Seto's flashbacks to his boyhood (including baseball) and his shame over disappointing the emperor make him a sympathetic but scary character.

The writing was accessible with occasional poetic interludes in Seto's voice:
Not raining leaves, nor whistling wind, not gonging bamboo, nor droning airplanes - especially not the bombers - could drown out the sound of a thousand soldiers marching. Marching. Marching.
This fast-paced novel would appeal especially to boys aged eleven to fourteen. Kiko is a young, boyish fifteen. There are lots of gross-out survival details like eating rats, although talking to a girl is even scarier. I had a hard time reading the detailed description of butchering the family pig, but Kiko suffers even more because he loves his pet. The gory violence of that scene was not gratuitous since it foreshadows what may come later. Although the story has plenty of educational value and religious moments, it never sounded didactic or preachy. No Surrender Soldier was designed to be read under the covers with a flashlight.

Reviewer's Disclosure: I bought this 2014 ebook myself. It's also available in hardcover from Merit Press, a new publisher of young adult fiction. I have a personal interest in Japan. My husband teaches Japanese Politics at Bowdoin College and my sister-in-law is Japanese.

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@Barrie Summy

Photos from the Blizzards of 2015

We've had three major storms (four snow days) in the past week, dumping about three feet of snow.

 That's not counting the drifts due to high winds. I have to "walk" Scout on skis. She follows in my tracks.

 My daughter has been a big help with the shoveling...Scout less so.

In my seventeen years in coastal Maine, I've never seen so much snow. Nothing melts in single digit temps.

The skiing has been great so I'm not complaining.
More is due tonight!


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Sarah,

This book sounds as if it would, as you say, be a great addition to History teaching whilst also standing as a novel in its own right. Increasingly, both World Wars are remote from young people so something which brings it closer to their own experiences is a good thing

You ave experienced a lot of snow this winter whereas, unusually, here in Budapest, there have been some small flurries but nothing else. Just as well as we have no skis!

Rose said...

This sounds like a great book for teens; if it weren't a YA book, I might read it myself. I think kids enjoy history much better when it is brought to life like this. And, sadly, the theme of the atrocities of war is all too relevant today.

Wow, that is a lot of snow! I see Scout enjoys playing in the snow as much as Sophie does:)

Stacy Nyikos said...

There seems to be a birth of stories about WW II and its effect in the South Pacific. I don't know where they were when I was growing up, if I just didn't see them, but I'm glad I am getting the opportunity to read them now and learn. Thanks for the great book review!

Barrie said...

Interesting book review! I'm finding myself drawn to historical YA and MG these days. Not sure why. And I hadn't heard of this book. Thank you! And, wow, that is an incredible amount of snow! And more on the way, you say?!

Unknown said...

Wow, that is a LOT of snow. And here I've been, chilled by a rainy 40 degrees.

Having read Unbroken not too long ago, I'm not sure I'm ready for this one. So much of the history from WWII is so difficult to believe, and yet, it's heartbreakingly real.

Stay warm--enjoy the skiing. Don't break a hip!!


A Cuban In London said...

I remember reading about something like this some years ago. It makes for such a fabolous story. Thanks for the review and the photos. Great pictures but it must have been terrifying being in the midst of the blizzard.

Greetings from London.

Bee said...

Hi Sarah! Hope you are keeping warm.
My Internet connection is dicey and your (no doubt lovely) pictures aren't loading . . . ironically, it's a "white out". I'll have to visit again later to check out the snow.

The book sounds really intriguing, and I will definitely read it for my next "war novel" list. I'm always looking for new books in this genre, especially if told from a unique point of view.

Cloudbuster said...

This sounds like an amazing boy's book. And such an interesting piece of history not normally explored in books for young readers. Great choice and great review!

Amanda Summer said...

Yikes - you are inundated!

I have heard stories about Japanese soldiers who were found months and years later on Pacific islands, never having know the war was long over - as far as they were concerned they were still fighting and had to be convinced it had ended.

cynthia said...

Thanks so much for the snow photos and blizzard details--lots of good reading time, I bet!

Petra Pavlátková said...

"A Japanese soldier hiding on a tropical island for 18 years after Word War II ended..." The words rang a bell and when you mentioned that the book was inspired by a true story, I was wondering where I might have heard or read them. It can't be long as I vaguely remember talking about it with my husband... Interesting, yet a bit scary story, a great topic for a book.

Enjoy the skiing in those beautifully looking heaps of snow which arrived at your doorstep in such amount. Undoubtedly not easy to deal with but wonderful to look at!

Stacy said...

I love how unique your review choices are.

As a note, my book club has overlapped a bit with your blog lately. I chose Euphoria as our April book due to your review, and another woman chose Brown Girl Dreaming as our March book.

Sarah Laurence said...

All, thanks for your comments! I’m afraid I got behind on replies between shoveling snow and revising, more on that on my latest post.

Barrie, thanks for hosting the book review club!
Cloudbuster, welcome to the club and to my blog!

Bee, sorry, I’ve reduced the number of posts on the home page of my blog so that it will load faster. If you click on the title of a post, only that one will load. Then again, if you’re seeing a white out, then you’re experiencing the blizzard. I’m pleased to hear that you’re adding this book to the war novel list for your teen readers.

Stacy, I’m so happy to hear that your book club is reading my suggestions!