This novel is set around events that are historical facts and will be freely discussed in this review. In the event that you weren’t paying attention during history lessons and are not familiar with what happened in Nazi Germany, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Nagasaki then this review might be a bit spoilerish.
I just love scrounging used book stores and library sales, you never know what long forgotten treasures you’ll find and this is one of the best yet. I’m very glad I picked this one up despite the fairly unattractive cover, just look at what is on the step-back inside.
Is that artwork gorgeous or what? The story is centered around Hosokawa-Napier Limited, a silk weaving dynasty that was founded in 1871 between American and Japanese partners. The Great Depression has had its impact on the silk trade, and the current partners, Douglas Napier and Baron Tadashi Hosokawa have to look to new ways to keep their business alive. Manufacturing and selling silk parachutes seems the perfect answer, but the only country currently spending money to build up their military in 1936 would be Germany…
A difficult choice. Do you bankrupt the business, lay off your workers, close the doors and walk away? Or sleep with
Hitler the devil? Along with those complications, there’s also the little matter of the children of these two great friends and partners. Maxwell (Max) Napier comes home from school and finds Hosokawa’s fifteen year old daughter Shizue a beautiful young woman and the pair are head over heels in love, but interracial marriage is not the done thing, especially for an old Samurai family like Hosokawa.
That’s the basic set-up and I don’t want to give away more, just fasten your seatbelts ’cause it’s going to be a bumpy ride. I loved this book, the writing and most especially the way the author put his characters into known historical events, giving the reader an up close look at those events through their eyes. No long-winded info dumps here, instead you’ll get a lively discussion at a business dinner to get you up to speed on Hitler’s Germany in 1936. An illegitimate child is added so that the reader can see first hand at how the Japanese shun those of mixed blood. You get to witness Kristallnacht though the eyes of one of the characters, and you’ll experience the terror of trying to get out of Germany (and Japan!) before it’s too late. Most
compelling horrifying of all is putting one of the main characters directly at the center of the bombing of Nagasaki and seeing it through his/her eyes (I’m not telling you who). Terrifying stuff. I don’t know when I’ll emotionally recover.
I loved every one of the 750+ pages in this book and had a hard time finding an excuse not to call in sick to work so I could keep reading. There’s plenty of tragedy, heartbreak and nail-biting until the very last pages. According to the brief bio at the back, McGill took seven years to write Omamori and it shows on every page; and for a male author he really does a nice job with his female characters. This book was written in 1987 before the days of all things politically correct, so if you’re touchy about certain racial terms this book might not suit. The author doesn’t pull any punches with the details about the Japanese wars in China (a great touch sending Paul there as a journalist to witness it firsthand), and of course the bombing of Nagasaki, so if you’re a bit squeamish I’d recommend giving this a pass. This book is very much suited to fans of big fat family sagas with plenty of drama, angst and history. 5/5 stars.