A Blossom in the Ashes by Ron Singerton

This World War II epic is a sequel to A Cherry Blossom in Winter, which I read, reviewed and enjoyed.

With a Japanese mother and Jewish/Russian father, Tadichi learns a harsh lesson in bigotry when he confesses his mixed heritage to the girl he hopes to marry and is unceremoniously dumped. Twelve years later, he is still unmarried, a fighter pilot and on Oahu where his mother lives. There he meets his brother, Koizumi, who he hardly knows and who is also a fighter pilot in the Japanese navy. With him is the beautiful Sayuri and his mother’s old friend. But Koizumi isn’t on Oahu merely to accompany the two ladies. He has a mission which will pit him against his brother in the coming war. To complicate matters further, both men are in love with Sayuri.

The story contains some of the components of the last book – lovers of different cultures torn apart by war; battle scenes which include, in this case, Pearl Harbour from the Japanese perspective; the suffering of civilians on the fringes of war. This one has a broader sweep than the first book.

The author has cleverly set his characters in different countries to show different perspective and the impact of war on other peoples. There are the two naval pilots, Tad and Koizumi, zipping through the ether on opposite sides. Through them the author reveals his knowledge of the planes of the day and aerial combat. The air and sea battles are exciting without being overly-lengthy or too detailed. We see Sayuri alone in Tokyo when it is mercilessly bombed and when the atom bombs are dropped on unsuspecting populations just as Japan is on the point of surrender. Tad’s mother is a nurse in Hawai’i. His father is in Russia when war breaks and must make his way west to Germany and the allies. His friend Jeremy, an American of Japanese descent, becomes a prisoner of war, escapes when the ship he is on is sunk, and provides some of the most edge-of-the-seat adventures in the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this action-packed book, but I must mention one thing. The opening chapter is set twelve years before the main action and deals with Tad’s girlfriend and her parents’ horror when he tells them of his Japanese/Jewish heritage. They immediately make it clear that he is not wanted. I expected that this kind of bigotry would be explored later in the book, but it wasn’t, which left me confused about why it was included.

****

A Cherry Blossom in Winter by Ron Singerton

Set in late19th/early 20th century, the story takes place in Russia and Japan. Revolution is simmering below the surface in Russia. Workers are striking and getting shot for peaceful protests. Dissatisfaction with the Tsar’s government is building. The background of the story is the Russo-Japanese War. The scenes of sea battle paint a horrifyingly vivid picture of the carnage and horror during the engagement at Tsushima. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that this war was a factor in the coming revolution.

Young Alexei Brusilov makes an enemy of Boris Sukolov by besting him at in a fencing competition at the Naval Academy. This is the beginning of a bitter enmity on Boris’s part which only deepens with further encounters. When Alexei’s father is offered a post in Japan, Alexei reluctantly goes with him to get away from the vengeful Boris. In Japan, he meets beautiful Kimi-San. For both, it’s love at first sight, although she is promised to another man. Kimi is a woman of her time, so their relationship is very much hands-off in the beginning. It is a forbidden but tender romance, conducted for the most part through letters and at distance.

At the start of the story, Alexei is an unsophisticated 17-year-old. His growth is not always heroic but terribly human. We see him exiled in Siberia, sunk in despairing dissolution, and again on a ship succumbing to despair as shells explode and body parts fly around him. And we see him rise above these awful tests.

The secondary characters are all very believable and help move the sub-plots along. Olga with her secrets. Sergei who longs for revolution. Count Yevgeny who beats his wife but is dominated by his mistress. Even Boris is not entirely evil, being redeemed by his love for the wild Svetlana.

The author provides some delectable tidbits of social mores. In Russia, at least in noble circles, it was accepted that husbands take mistresses and wives take lovers. Often cuckolds were friends with their cuckolders. A high level of discretion was required, but any hint of jealousy was unacceptable. In Japan we learn something of Japanese culture, particularly as it relates to interactions between a man and a woman.

Really strong writing and so many elements to the book that I have no hesitation in recommending it.

*****

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