Blossoms and Bayonets by Jana McBurney-Lin and Hi-Dong Chai

Blossoms and Bayonets by Jana McBurney-Lin and Hi-Dong ChaiBlossoms and Bayonets: A Story of Love, Faith and Courage Under Japanese Occupation by Jana McBurney-Lin, Hi-Dong Chai
Published by Redwood Publishing on May 12, 2013
Genres: Coming of Age, Cultural Heritage, Fiction
Pages: 316
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
IndieBoundBarnes & NobleAmazon
Goodreads
one-star

The time is 1942, the place is Japanese-occupied Seoul, Korea. Fifteen-year-old He-Seung is full of fire, ready to take on these Japanese…if only he could convince his father, a Christian minister who is more concerned with saving his flock in a time when Emperor-worship has become mandatory. Since occupation, the Japanese have eradicated the Korean language, names, even the country’s flower. Now they are seeking Korean boys as volunteers for their army. When his father is arrested by the Japanese, He-Seung must swallow his hatred of the enemy. Even harder, he must leave his mother and baby brother He-Dong to fend for themselves.
Based on a true story, Blossoms & Bayonets is suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period. The story lends an eyewitness perspective to events as they unfold. revealing an era of nuance and complexity. The result is a work that speaks volumes about how and why one war led to the next.McBurney-Lin crafts…an engaging and entertaining read from beginning to end.--Midwest Book ReviewImpossible to put down—or to forget—authors’ grippingly suspenseful and deeply affecting historical novel limns the lives of a Korean family under Japanese rule with astonishing grace and power. –Caroline Leavitt, bestselling author of Pictures of You.Riveting internal dialogue and narration interspersed with quotes from those running the war efforts on various fronts combine to compel the reader forward. I say compel rather than propel, because I had to read. I had to know how this family and those around them would fare in the end.—Keri Rojas, bookseller at Cornerstone Cottage, Hampton, IA.

 

Based on the true story of co-author Hi-Dong Chai, Blossoms and Bayonets is the fictional coming-of-age story of 15-year-old He-Seung, the middle child in a Korean Christian family in 1942. After his father’s arrest, He-Seung must leave his mother and baby brother behind as his family and country are torn apart.

Told in alternating first-person perspectives, this novel gives a personal account of Japan’s occupation of Korea, which involved all the trademark assimilation tactics of colonization: taking away the native language, religion, even the local flora. Anything Koreans identified with was stripped away, declared illegal, and replaced with the Japanese equivalent. Actual quotes from Japanese propaganda start each section, which makes for a haunting blend of history and fiction.

I really wanted to love this book, but sadly, it didn’t click with me. The narrative prevented me from connecting with the characters; strange, because I normally love books written in first-person and with changing points of view, as was the case here. Instead, the dialogue (both inner and outer) felt awkward and artificial. And for some reason, I couldn’t get past that. (One example: there were only so many times I could stomach Mother always and only referring to her husband as “my dear.”) This was incredibly disappointing, because I was so interested in this story! I wanted it to envelop me, and honestly, I believe that that would have been the case had the novel been written in third person. I was frustrated that this single aspect bothered me enough that I wasn’t able to make myself push through to the end; I gave up about 1/3 of the way in.

That being said, I can’t help but wonder if my annoyance with something that feels seemingly minor had to do with timing, especially since I’d just finished two back-to-back phenomenal reads. The storyline and setting of Blossoms and Bayonets are quite wonderful, and aside from the dialogue, the characters themselves still felt very real to me. I would like to give this book another try in the future.

Other readers have raved about Blossoms and Bayonets, so be sure to check out their reviews on Goodreads for different perspectives.

one-star