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‘The Diplomat’s Daughter’: Exploring the experience of WWII internees with fiction

by

Special To The Japan Times

Karin Tanabe’s fourth novel explores the experience of Japanese and German internees in the U.S. during World War II, set against the experience of foreign detainees in Japan.

The Diplomat’s Daughter, by Karin Tanabe.
464 pages
SIMON & SCHUSTER, Fiction.

She deliberately focuses on less-explored stories such as the 11,000 Germans interned alongside the Japanese, the village of Karuizawa in Japan where many foreign citizens were detained during the war, and occupied Shanghai, which became an unlikely refuge for Jews who escaped east from Europe.

Emi is the titular daughter, raised around the globe as her father is posted and reposted. In Austria she falls in love with Leo, and the romance becomes epistolary when her father is sent to Washington. When war breaks out the family is interred in Texas, where she meets Christian, the American-born son of German immigrants also incarcerated. They fall in love. Emi gets sent to Japan and Christian joins the army, hoping to find her again on the other side of the Pacific, but Leo reappears, completing the triangle.

Tanabe should be applauded for bringing these often fringe narratives from WWII to the surface, but her research gets in the way of her writing. The dialogue is forced and unrealistic, serving exposition and explication rather than realism, and the plot seems designed to hit as many key points as possible rather than being allowed to develop naturally.

As it leans more on tugged heart-strings than literary merit, I found this book ultimately disappointing.