Saint John Don Bosco:

"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Under the Blood-Red Sun by Graham Salisbury

I'm surprised that I was unfamiliar with this author. This book received the Scott O'Dell Historical Fiction award and deserves entry into the canon of classic historical fiction. His writing is certainly a notch (or two or three) above average.

Writing believeable historical fiction is particularly challenging. Not only does the author have to create a solid story and characters to care about, but s/he has to simultaneously immerse the the reader in a time period that conveys the history accurately. Many times, the story loses out at least a bit to the history lesson. Or, the writing just doesn't flow naturally enough to make the story utterly engaging and the history lesson a happy side-effect.

Graham Salisbury manages to do this seamlessly. Tomi's story tells the experience of Japanese Americans in Hawaii during and right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Tomi is Japanese, but his country is America. This, of course, is not appreciated by all his fellow Americans. While his father is imprisoned, his family is left to the mixed-bag mercies of their non-Japanese neighbors. There follows a believable and accurate portrayal of the good, the bad, and the ugly treatment that the Japanese actually lived through at this time and place.

I liked the way the mother taught patience and family honor to the boy. I also liked the description of the Japanese culture where if someone accidentally hurts someone, they make up for it no matter how long it takes. An analogy to penance works well here. There are few religious references, although the description of the Japanese tradition of keeping an altar for the death of a loved one is briefly explained as well as the Japanese tradition of receiving guidance from the spirit of the dead family member. This is a good spot for a discussion of the communion of saints.

There is one scene that involves a lot of blood because Tomi is forced to cut the throats of their messenger pigeons. His mother is a mail-order bride from Japan whose first husband-to-be died while she was traveling to Hawaii. There is a reference to one of her choices being "to sell herself to men in the bars." And there is one scene where his friend gets involved in a fight protecting his sister from 6 drunk soldiers who wanted to carry her off (to what is left to the imagination).

And if you're looking for a safe swear word in front of the children, I kind of like the Grandfather's "confunnit!" I'm adopting it.

See: Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Communion with the Saints: paragraphs 956; 957; 958
Penance in daily life: paragraph 1435

Safety Rating: 3 Vatican Flags (for older tweens, 2 flags for mid-younger)

Historical Fiction: World War II; 1939-1945; America (Hawaii)

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