Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cherry Blossom Nostalgia: A Review

Cherry Blossons in Twilight: Memories of a Japanese Girl, by Yaeko Sugama Weldon, with her daughter, Linda E. Austin, is the charming life story of a Japanese-born senior citizen. It is a book for readers of all ages, from young people learning about history and other cultures to older people who lived through World War II.

Yaeko Sugama was born in 1925 in the small town of Tokorozawa, Japan, where she could see Mt. Fuji and the Chichibu mountain range in the distance. The family was poor, and lived in a typical one-story wooden house with a tin roof. Her father's shoemaking shop was in the front. Yaeko adored her father, but somewhat resented her mother's preference for her brother. "Girls are not so good to have because they marry and leave home, but when a son gets married, he stays to take care of his parents." That was the Japanese custom.

The author describes other customs of the time: the nature celebrations, the making of origami birds and kirigami from colorul paper, Yaeko's pet owl, stories from Japanese folklore. The author's charmingly drawn illustrations from a child's life in Japan are an added bonus.

After "Childhood" comes a section on "School," and then "World War II," "After the War," and "A New Life." The book ends with an appendix of Japanese children's songs, photographs of Japan in the 1950's, and a useful glossary and index of Japanese terms.

World War II disrupted peaceful life in Tokorozawa and brought air raids, bomb shelters, and rationing, leading the children to ask, "Who wants war anyway?" While the war took away the young Japanese men she might have married, it gave Yaeko a view of the outside world. She worked for American military families, eventually married an American soldier, and moved to the Chicago area.

Yaeko Sugama Weldon now lives in St.Louis, Missouri, near her daughter Linda, who helped her put her stories together. This book is a good example of the family memories and experiences we all need to share. While Yaeko expresses her regret that she didn't learn English better, her simple, direct prose is charming. That, as well as the story itself, should make this book especially interesting to young readers. However, I couldn't put it down myself.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne.

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