Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Travel the World: Japan: The Girl With The White Flag

The Girl with the White Flag: An Inspiring Story of Love and Courage in War Time was written by Tomiko Higa. It was translated into English by Dorothy Britton. It was first published in 1991. One of the more recent reprintings was 2003.

First sentence: I was born in Shuri, the ancient capital of Okinawa, which is now part of the city of Naha.

The Girl with the White Flag is the story of the author's childhood in war-time Japan. It begins by giving the reader ample background into the time and culture and place. We meet our heroine, a young girl who throughout the book spans the ages of five through seven. One of the first events she shares with readers is the death of her mother. She then relates what life was like with her father, two older sisters, and her older brother. This portion is hard to navigate. I think in some ways it is just as hard for modern readers to understand the family life--the harshness, the strictness, the discipline, as it is to understand the monstrosities of war and soldiers and starvation. (Or maybe that's just my take on it.)

About halfway through the narrative, the father disappears. He was on his somewhat routine mission of delivering food to the Japanese soldiers, but on this occasion he never returned home. The four children are left to fend for themselves. The American soldiers have just begun their invasion, their battle to capture this island. The children become refugees and the fight to survive has begun. The children ranged in age from 17 to 6. Somewhere along the way, however, two things happen--big things--that make this event even scarier: 1) Their brother dies one night from a stray bullet. 2) Within a few days of burying their brother, our narrator--the six/seven year old girl becomes lost--separated--from her sister.

The book recounts what it was like to be seven and alone and wandering in and out of danger. There was no safe place. Not really. Japanese soldiers weren't "safe." In fact, in her brief encounters with them she was almost killed. No, being near soldiers wasn't safe. The only "safe" soldier was a dead soldier. She did in fact scavenge around the dead soldiers looking for food.

Her will to survive was strong. Her stamina incredible in my opinion. The sights. The sounds. The smells. All surrounded her. Could have potentially traumatized her and paralyzed her into inaction.

If there is power in the Girl with The White Flag it is in its rawness, its simplicity, its boldness when it comes to being straightforward and honest. The story is incredible is powerful because it's true. Here is an eyewitness account of what it means to be seven and a refugee in a war zone. It can be brutal. It can be intense. But there is more to it than that.

127 pages.


Anonymous said...

Not an easy book, clearly, but it sounds interesting. And thank you for indicating the name of the translator in your review.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the review and the reminder about this book. I have always meant to read it but never did get around to it. Will have to remedy that soon.

Melissa said...

It sounds like an interesting perspective on the war; it's not often that you get it from a 7 year old's point of view. You said it was the author's childhood; is it a memoir, or a fictionalized account of that?

Becky said...

It's a memoir. As far as I can tell there is no fiction added to it. Just a first-person account. She did do research, however, with U.S. military records to help her "remember" specific dates and locations. Because at the time she would have been too unaware to pinpoint each stop of her journey on a map.

It's very good. But it's not the writing style. It is a translation, and the broken English in some places hinders it from being "beautiful prose" but the power is in the simple straightforwardness of it.

Amira said...

Thank you for this review. I particularly like books in translation like this. I wish it were at my library.

Anonymous said...

I met Tomiko Higa shortly after this book was published in 1989 and have a signed copy. I remember her as a very small woman with an electric smile. The book is a very realistic account of what Okinawan civilians experienced during the Battle for Okinawa. Nice to see this book turn up after so many years.

Anonymous said...

The Girl With the Flag is the most amazing book ive ever read. i barely read books but, i wanna read this book over and over again. i love the part when Tomiko got separated with her two sisters and found her way to survived. She found her ways to eat, sleep until she found those two old couples that live in cave. It was overwhelming and i actually cried when grandpa said " Tomiko always remember, Life is the most precious thing in the world ". Without the help of grandpa and grandma, Tomiko(The Author) is probably not here right now. i learned that, helping each other in the middle of struggles can bring us to life.:)

Anna said...

Sorry I missed this one. The wartime stories about children make me so sad. It must have been so scary for her!

I've linked to your review on the Book Reviews: WWII page on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric