Monday, September 6, 2021

#BookReview: Last Night With Tokyo Rose by Alexa Kang

World War II Historical

Nisei War Series #1

Author Links

Like any other American man, Tom Sakai wants nothing but a good life and a decent job. But in 1941, his country is not a friendly place for a Nisei. Being a son of Japanese immigrants, he’s never American enough. As Japan and the United States edge to the brink of war, the truth is all too clear. America has no place for someone like him. In search of his place in the world, he leaves his hometown of Seattle and sets out to sea.

In Manila, he meets Fumiko, a Nisei from Los Angeles with a heartbreaking past who captures his heart. His soulmate who tread the same path of prejudice he walked at home. Together, they begin a new life in this burgeoning city under American colonial rule where they are no longer shunned.

The Pearl Harbor attack destroys their dreams. Their dual identity now forces them to take a side. Their survival hinges on whether they stand with the land of the rising sun or the land of the free.

Stranded in occupied territory, Tom must decide where his loyalty lies. Should he swear his allegiance to Imperial Japan, the instigator of war and violence? Or America, the country that deserted him when the world's darkest hour begins?

What happens if his choice diverges from his one true love?
Amazon’s bestselling WWII historicals are currently dominated by novels set in France, England, Germany, and the United States. It’s excellent material, and I completely understand its appeal, but as a genre addict, I find these locales have lost their novelty. My eyes are accustomed to these settings, and while I’m not averse to revisiting the familiar, I find my interest more easily tempted by stories set elsewhere, stories such as Alexa Kang’s LAST NIGHT WITH TOKYO ROSE.

Though I’ve eyed many of her novels, the first installment of the Nisei War series marks my first experience with Kang’s work. I came to this piece without any real expectation but was ultimately impressed by the author’s illustration of the pre-war prejudice Japanese immigrants and their families suffered in America. In the last few years, the emotional resonance of novels like Rindell’s EAGLE & CRANE, Meissner’s THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR, and Morrill’s WITHIN THESE LINES struck chords I’ve not forgotten, but these novels all focus on the injustice of internment. The expansive scope of Kang’s work depicts life in the decades before Executive Order 9066 and, in so doing, challenges readers to reconsider their understanding of the Japanese American experience from a much more layered and multi-faceted perspective. That said, I wish the author had chosen to relay her story through a more provocative and proactive protagonist.

In the Afterward, Kang notes she was hesitant to take risks with this book, that she worried readers might take offense at her plot or the way she chose to present her characters. I understand this fear, but I feel it prompted Kang to write too safely. Tom spends most of the novel disinterested in anything that doesn’t involve a girl or a paycheck, a fact that makes him about as interesting as a wet dishtowel. His frustrations are noteworthy, but it takes him so long to adopt a definitive perspective on any of the issues he experiences that his eleventh-hour movements felt entirely inauthentic to his nature. Kang can write thought-provoking characters – Maggie, Katsuo, Fumiko, Russo, Emilio, and Claire all jumped from the page – but Tom didn’t hold my attention in any way, shape, or form.

Historically speaking, I admire Kang’s use of the Japanese propaganda broadcast system, but I don’t think it played as prominently as the title suggests. A thematic drama rather than a romantic one, LAST NIGHT WITH TOKYO ROSE is a story rife with complex questions, brutal truths, and honor in the face of adversity.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: August 23, 2021

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