WW2 literature is my go-to area when it comes to looking for something new to read... I don’t know why but for as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with the time, and try to read anything new that comes out based in the 1930’s and 40’s, fiction and non-fiction. The Diplomat’s Daughter’s plot stuck out for me, especially as the plot revolves around areas less talked about today: what happened to Japanese and German nationals and Japanese and German Americans residing in the US when the war broke out.
The Diplomat’s Daughter is the story of Emiko (Emi) Kato, Leo Hartmann, and Christian Lange. Emi is the daughter of a Japanese diplomat, and while she was born in Japan spent most of her childhood and teens in Europe (Germany, England, Austria), and speaks fluent Japanese, German and English. Emi meets Leo, an Austrian Jew in Vienna in the latter half of the 1930’s, where they become friends and then fall in love. When Emi’s father is transferred to the US they fear they will never see each other again. When Japan declares war on the US, the Katos are removed from their homes and put into detention camps in preparation for their transfer back to Japan, but Emi contracts TB and has to stay behind until she is well again. She meets Christian, an American born in Germany to German parents, in an internment camp in Texas.
With these three characters Karin Tanabe is able to create a narrative of war, growing up, of love, of learning that home may not always be home, and of how a country can turn against its citizens in a flash because of fear. The novel takes place in Vienna, the US (several locations), Shanghai, and Japan, and we is a well-researched romance that revolves around the internment of Japanese and German people (including Japanese and German Americans) by the US government during WW2, conditions in Japan during WW2, and the insanity and horrors of Shanghai at the time. I have read about Shanghai in the 30’s and 40’s before in my all-time favorite novel Gone To Soldiers, and the author does a great job conjuring up the living hell that it was for many.
I had a little trouble getting into the novel at first, as the timeline and characters shift back and forth a lot, especially in the first half. But once the characters started to come to life for me I had to find out if they all made it through OK. There is so much more to the stories than the short summary I provided above, and so much history, places, people... BUT, before being a story about the war it is a romance novel. The war is a backdrop to the love stories, and sometimes you may find your eyes rolling a bit. There are some scenes that are a little contrived, but for the most part the story moves along quite well. It wasn’t entirely what I expected, but it was well written and I am happy I read it.
There is one scene that I found quite triggering in the novel, and I wasn’t expecting it at all – it was completely unnecessary in my opinion and weirdly much more graphical than the love scenes which on the contrary were glossed over. Would love to hear other peoples’ thoughts on this!