Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki, Emily Balistrieri (Translator) // impactful and powerful middle grade fiction
Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki, Emily Balistrieri (Translator)
Publication Date : March 16th 2021
Publisher : Delacorte Press
Genre : Historical Fiction / Middle Grade
Pages : 176
The haunting and poignant story of a how a young Japanese girl’s understanding of the historic and tragic bombing of Hiroshima is transformed by a memorial lantern-floating ceremony.
Twelve-year-old Nozomi lives in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. She wasn’t even born when the bombing of Hiroshima took place. Every year Nozomi joins her family at the lantern-floating ceremony to honor those lost in the bombing. People write the names of their deceased loved ones along with messages of peace, on paper lanterns and set them afloat on the river. This year Nozomi realizes that her mother always releases one lantern with no name. She begins to ask questions, and when complicated stories of loss and loneliness unfold, Nozomi and her friends come up with a creative way to share their loved ones’ experiences. By opening people’s eyes to the struggles they all keep hidden, the project teaches the entire community new ways to show compassion.
Soul Lanterns is an honest exploration of what happened on August 6, 1945, and offers readers a glimpse not only into the rich cultural history of Japan but also into the intimate lives of those who recognize–better than most–the urgent need for peace.
*** Disclaimer : I received e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to PRHGlobal for free copy. ***
Soul Lanterns was amazing translated Japanese middle grade historical fiction that revolved around three middle grade friends and their exploration of what happened on 6th Aug, 1945. Story was about tragic historical event, its impact on people and their life quarter century later. It was about loss, grief, guilt, regrets, and healing journey of people.
Writing was lucid, emotive, and beautiful. It was third person narrative from middle grade students Nozomi, Kozo, and Shun that made the stories of characters close to them who lost someone in attack or in sickness even more exceptional. Setting of Hiroshima 25 years after the bomb attack was well described.
It started with Nozomi attending the night of Lantern Floating ceremony in honour of those lost in bombing. She observed her mother floating two lanterns, one with name and other without name. It made her thinking who that other lantern was for and then she was stopped by old lady who seemed to recognize her face. As she looked like her mother, she thought the lady must be looking for her mother but she didn’t know why and was curious to know.
At the same time her class’ art teacher got sick and through his story, she and her friend Shun came up with the cultural festival theme- Hiroshima Then and Now: Ask people Close to you what happened that day. That gave her perfect opportunity to ask her mother about the second lantern and the lady she met at ceremony.
From synopsis I thought the story was about Nozomi but it actually includes 3 friends and stories they discovered by reaching out to member of their family. All three kids were amazing. Nozomi and Shun were in same classes and were also in art club of school. Kuzo was in same class but was in baseball team. What connected three of them was their art teacher, Mr Yoshioka.
I enjoyed reading their love for their art teacher and how his sudden illness and story about his loss made them understand him even more. Shun discovered story about his neighbour, Kuzo about his aunt and Nozomi about person after whom that unwritten lantern was lit by her mother.
Best part of the book was those stories kids discovered and how it moved and inspired them to create art that can express such huge grief and message. The history, how so many innocent people died, bombing illness, what people suffered and lost, and how people lived, how it affected art, why those art students were sent out to war first how they were treated, and even innocent animals were not spared… it was all horrifying, heart wrenching and made me put book aside for a while and think about their situation and be grateful for comfort life I have.
This was fictionalised version but it still was very impactful. I don’t know how people could have survived such loss and grief and still hope to have peace. Irony was kids were studying this tragic horrifying history of bombing in ‘Peace study’ classes.
I also liked the way Japanese culture and geography of Hiroshima was written- about soul lantern ceremony, equinoctial week, Jugoya moon viewing festival; some Japanese terminology for the tragic event were also explained like – Nyushi hibaku (person exposed to radiation), tokko and Kaiten (that was most horrifying of all).
I loved the messages kids learned in this book and even for readers- how there is more to every story, even when you think you know someone there is still so many things you have no idea about and it’s art that saves us most so never let any foolish ideologies binds you and your talent.
I loved these quotes that says a lot–
“How on earth will we be able to make up for these crimes, to heal these wounds? These are things we’ll have to ask ourselves as long as we live. As one answer, scholar of World War II and especially the Holocaust continue to tell us, ‘Though shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a preparator, but, above all, though shalt not be a bystander’.”
“There’s no such thing as a ‘correct’ war, but there is at least one rule that needs to be followed, and that is not involve women, children, or the elderly-ordinary citizens who’ve done nothing wrong.”
“I’m just an uneducated woman, and I don’t know much, but even I know that somewhere in this world there is still fighting going on, and mothers are losing their precious children.”
I loved how cultural festival turned out and how that gave characters a mean to move forward and have closure and peace with what they lost. End was just as beautiful as the beginning of the story.
Overall, Soul Lanterns moving, impactful, and powerful fictional retelling of events of Hiroshima for middle grade readers. It’s sure is little dark and there is no lighter way to tell such horrific event and I see text books don’t show such closure look on what people have gone through, so this was book represent it so well and I think 12 or 13+ readers can digest this.
Thank you for reading! Let’s chat…
What do you think about the book and review? Have you read this already or any book by the same author? Have you read a book set in Hiroshima?
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LOVELY REVIEW. I should get this one for my LFL (Little Free Library.
I hope you enjoy this. 😀
What a beautiful cover! It sounds like an important and memorable story. Wonderful review, Yesha!
It was unforgettable and really great. Thank you, Teri!
Despite being Japanese, I have never heard of the book nor did I read this story through class while I was growing up; this book must be relatively new but yes, there are indeed lots of books written on the Atomic bomb of HIroshima and I remember drawing a picture of Hiroshima bombings for my assignment. It’s really tragic and devastating. This book sounds like a very faithful representation of such a traumatic history, and I am glad you learned some of the Japanese culture terminology 🙂
Excellent review, Yesha!
It was heart-breaking to read such tragic event. I enjoyed reading about culture and some terminology though I don’t I was pronouncing it right. I saw in author’s note, this is first book translated in English. She is second generation survivor. There isn’t any information on if she has written other books or not. Thank you, Noriko! ❤
Loving your pictures and sneak peeks of what you’re gonna read next. Love the idea for the story cause I enjoy semi-fishy out of water tales where something needs to be explained or discovered by the main character so I feel like I’m discovering alongside them. Sounds like the author did an amazing job with this. Covers also gorgeous
Thank you! It was amazing read and I love the cover too.
Excellent review, Yesha! I’m definitely adding this one to our list. It sounds excellent. That cover is beautiful too. I don’t think my kids have read a Japanese-translated story yet.
I hope you and kids would love it. You read it first as it’s WWII holocaust book so there are tragedies is book.