Napoli, Donna Jo

In a Flash

(2) 4-6 Narrator Simona is eight years old in 1940, and her younger sister five, when they leave their home outside Rome for Tokyo--their father has been hired as chef at the Italian embassy. The girls must quickly learn a new language and new customs--and although they come to love Japan, as Westerners their friends are few. As WWII approaches and then intensifies, life in Tokyo deteriorates, with food and clothing scarcities; classmates' brothers and fathers lost to war; school concerned with propaganda rather than learning. Then, in 1943, Italy surrenders--and Simona's family is now the enemy. From here, the novel becomes a survival story. The girls are separated from their father and sent to a starvation-level internment camp; escape and are rescued by a household of anti-war activists; they return, after the women's home is raided, to Tokyo, where they find refuge with a blind washerwoman; and finally, fatefully, end up in a Catholic mission in Hiroshima. Throughout, what saves them are Simona's strength and determination but also the sisters' assimilation into and respect for Japanese culture: at the camp, their politeness earns them life-saving tidbits from the kitchen; needing to buy train tickets back to Tokyo, they speak the language so well they pass for Japanese. Simona's eight-year-old voice is the same as her adult voice (the novel ends with a final chapter set in 1965), but readers may overlook this quibble as they immerse themselves in Napoli's story, told with immediacy, compassion, and nuance. A note describing the author's research and an extensive bibliography are appended.


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