Review: Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

February 22, 2012 Historical Fiction, Kensington, Review, Women's Fiction 7

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington Books (February 28, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0758246854
  • Source: Author

Maddie Kern is a young violinist living in Los Angeles in 1941. She and her brother, TJ, have been on their own since their mother died. Their father, unresponsive due to the depression he suffers after the loss of his wife, is living in a rehabilitation center, a shell of the man he used to be. Therefore, TJ feels the need to not only serve the role of her brother, but as her parent as well. He’s quite strict, desperate to cushion Maddie from the world around her.

Unbeknownst to TJ, Maddie has fallen in love with his best friend, Lane Moritomo, the son of Japanese immigrants. They’ve kept their relationship a secret from her brother and Lane’s family, but when Lane hears his parents have arranged a bride for him, he and Maddie decide to elope, certain that nothing can stop them from being together. Interracial marriage is not legal in California, so they must trek to neighboring Washington state to wed. The following day, however, the world changes. Pearl Harbor is bombed by the Japanese, and Maddie’s new husband becomes the sworn enemy to those around her. The couple, on several occasions, witnesses the hate for all those of Japanese descent. It doesn’t matter that Lane is an American citizen. He has the face of the enemy.

Lane’s father is arrested and his family is moved to a war relocation camp. Lane begs Maddie to divorce, even going so far as to present her with the papers. Maddie has a chance to go off and study music at Julliard, but gives it all up to follow Lane, not willing to put an end to their relationship and join him at the relocation camp. Maddie works hard to gain the acceptance of Lane’s family, and Lane sacrifices his own safety to prove his allegiance to America. McMorris creates quite an epic story of two families, both desperately trying to survive a world ravaged by war.

Being in an interracial relationship myself, I instantly felt sympathy for the plight Maddie and Lane were forced to endure. While my husband and I are lucky enough to live in a society in which a relationship like this is more accepted than it was in the past, we still on occasion experience hostility about our relationship from others. I have to admit I wasn’t nearly as educated about what happened to those individuals of Japanese descent after Pearl Harbor; I was completely ignorant to the abuse they endured.

McMorris’ prose is absolutely breathtaking, gliding over the pages like a musical score. Music, itself, plays a key role in this story as well. Following is a quote referencing Maddie and her gift of music:

“She suddenly looked at her violin as more than an instrument. With a body and a neck, a rib and a waist, the wooden form represented the person who guided it to sing. To keep her loved ones alive, Maddie would tell their stories-and her own-with the voice inside and the strings in her hand.”

The themes that are prevalent in this powerful story include love and commitment, prejudice, and acceptance. Despite the overwhelming difficulties these two families are forced to endure, hope always prevails. McMorris gives readers an emotional powerful,  exhilarating tale of how love touches two families, separated in space and in spirit by war. It is remarkable to see how war affects people similarly, despite their differing backgrounds.

The characters McMorris creates are so rich; it is not often that you come across a book in which the characters are so well developed. Each character’s story becomes it’s own storyline, beautifully crafted to come together at the end.

Bridge of Scarlet Leaves is a novel that will appeal to various types of readers, including history buffs, romance fans, and more. It is a book that I devoured, a book that I will cherish. Highly recommended.

Following is a little background on the story:

The premise of this novel began with a true account of two brothers during WWII, one who had fought for Japan and the other for America. While researching the subject, Kristina happened across a brief mention of roughly two hundred non-Japanese spouses who voluntarily lived in an internment camp. She was stunned and fascinated by the discovery, and immediately knew it was a story she needed to tell.

As the daughter of a Japanese immigrant father and Caucasian American mother, Kristina grew up living between these two cultures. Through Bridge of Scarlet Leaves she hopes to share with readers a unique perspective of an intriguing, and often tragic, portion of our country’s history, while also honoring a diverse range of quiet heroes.

7 Responses to “Review: Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris”

  1. Erika Robuck
    Twitter: ErikaRobuck

    I LOVED this book. I knew almost nothing about Japanese internment camps (shamefully.) The beauty of historical fiction is that the reader can truly internalize events of the past because of her emotional investment in the characters. Kristina’s novel is a perfect example of this. Great review!

  2. Julie @ Knitting and Sundries

    What a great review, and on a subject that so many people don’t know about. I find it horrid that schools don’t teach about the internments; what we don’t know we are bound to repeat. Imagine losing your homes, your jobs, your place in school, and only years after the fact, having your remaining family be compensated less than $30,000 .. such a paltry amount for the loss of livelihood and dignity.

  3. Kristina McMorris
    Twitter: KrisMcMorris

    Jenn, thank you for the lovely review! It meant even more to me knowing how you personally related to the aspect of an interracial relationship. I think there are many people out there who can understand what it’s like to live between worlds. I’m so thrilled you loved the story!

  4. Kristina McMorris
    Twitter: KrisMcMorris

    Erika, I’m so grateful for your enthusiasm behind this book! Thanks so much for all your support. 🙂

    Julie, I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s been really eye-opening for me, already hearing people not only express how little they knew about the internment, but some who even admit they didn’t know it happened at all. I believe the best remedy is to talk about it, and I hope my book helps in that regard–even if only in a small way.

  5. Beth(bookaholicmom)

    I haven’t read too many books about the Japanese internment camps but I have read one or two. They have fascinated me enough to want to know more about this time period and why it is talked about so little. The stories of the how the Japanese-Americans were treated are heartbreaking! This is a book I must read! I love your enthusiasm for it!