Listen: Author Keiko Itoh '74 Discusses Her Novel, Set in Japanese-Occupied Shanghai
This fall, author Keiko Itoh '74 returned to campus for the first time in 40 years to discuss "Japanese-Occupied Shanghai, 1942-1946: The Making of a Novel." Itoh also reflects fondly on her time at Swarthmore, saying the College provided her with the "education of a lifetime."
Itoh's novel, My Shanghai, 1942-1946 (University of Hawai'i Press, 2015), recounts the war experiences of a young, London-educated Japanese housewife in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Although written as fiction, the book is based on historical research on the Pacific War, with a significant portion relating the activities of the Quakers in Shanghai. Itoh's book is also partly inspired by her mother’s own war experiences in occupied China.
Itoh, a London-based writer and interpreter, was born in Kobe, Japan. She graduated from Swarthmore with a B.A. in history and later earned an M.A. from Yale University. She worked at the United Nations in N.Y., and then at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank in London. In mid-career, she returned to university to research the historical context of her "unusually international" family. Her first book, The Japanese Community in Pre-war Britain: From Integration to Disintegration (2001), based on her London School of Economics Ph.D. dissertation, is a social history of the Japanese community in London to which her grandfather and mother belonged.
Speaker 1: Good afternoon everybody, welcome to this very special talk. It's my great honor and pleasure to introduce Keiko Itoh. Keiko is Japanese born writer and interpreter who lives in London right now. She spent five years, of her early years, in New York City. And left Japan again after graduating. She was born in Kobe. You all know Kobe, right? She studied and received her B.A. from Swarthmore College majoring in History. And a Master's Degree from Yale University. She worked as an interpreter for the United Nations in New York City, and then to the European Bank for reconstruction and the development, and the World Bank in London afterwards.
In mid-career she decided to go back to University to fulfill her long held desire to research the historical context of her unusual international family. And her first book is called the Japanese Community in Pre-War Britian, was published in 2001. That was her first book based on her London of School Economics Ph.D. dissertation. And then the first novel, that's the main topic for today, is called My Shanghai, 1942-1946, the book.
As a child Itoh often heard her mother talk about Shanghai so she was given the impression that Shanghai was a fun, fascinating place. It was only when she grew up that Itoh realized her mother's time in Shanghai had been during the 2nd World War. Life could not have been so lousy yet to her mother Shanghai's place maintained magical. And Itoh wanted to find out why and also my Shanghai, 1942-1946 is the result of her request. That is why she decided to write this book.
I think it's a very useful book it's not just for the historians and also for ordinary people. I think it's good to have those unheard stories published for people to understand what happened during that period. And so her talk is mainly about the novel she wrote. This talk is co-sponsored by the Asian Studies, Chinese, Japanese as well as the History Department. And also Advancement Office of Swarthmore College. Okay, I should stop here. Let's welcome our great guest speaker.
Keiko Itoh: Thank you very much Professor Kong. I'm wearing a very Swarthmore outfit because this was a present from Professor Kong and all the sponsors of this talk. But I am going to take off my hat to speak because it's not very comfortable. And thank you very much everybody for coming. I know you all have lots of commitments and homework, lots of reading to do. But it's a great honor to be here, and to have you here and to be back at my alma mater after over forty years.
It is as beautiful as ever making me feeling nostalgic for my student days. At the same time I think of how naïve and unworldly I had been then and as a result failing to take full advantage of the wonderful opportunities and resources Swarthmore had to offer. I was educated at a Catholic girls school back in Japan. And when I told my parents that I wanted to go to college in the U.S. they thought only a proper woman's Catholic college would be appropriate. This is why I ended up at Manhattanville College, which until the year before I had attended had been Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart for Women. But neither my parents nor I had realized that it had become a secular and co-ed college the year I arrived. Even so I wanted a bit more challenge and transferred to Swarthmore in my sophomore year.
I remember so clearly coming to Swarthmore for my admissions interview on a gorgeous spring day. Seeing a seminar being held under the Oak Tree, under the shade of a big Oak tree and students scattered around immersed in their books. And I fell in love with the place and I thought I would never recover if I was not accepted. But fortunately I was, so here I am. But, once here as a student I couldn't help feeling slightly out of my depth. The kids around me were so smart and outspoken and articulate and the reading lists were long and the classes moved along so quickly.
I remember in a History class being stuck, unable to take notes because I didn't quite know how to spell bourgeois and I don't know if I really knew what it meant. Still, just trying to keep up and find my feet gave me the education of a lifetime. From being exposed to the socially aware, politically active and engaged Swarthmore community. I probably would not have thought of going back to university as a mature student and pursue a Ph.D. let alone to write a novel had it not been for my education here, which I think instills in one the pursuit of life long learning. And also life long friends, some of whom are here today. And thank you very much for coming.
The topic of my talk today is how my recently published novel, My Shanghai, 1942-1946 came to be. It is the story of a young Japanese woman who had spent her teenage years in London who then goes to Shanghai in 1942 as a young wife and mother. Shanghai at the time was in the midst of a war. Japan had been at war against China from 1937 but after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 the United States and Britain also became enemies of Japan. Almost at the same time as Pearl Harbor was happening in China, Japan took over the British and American parts of Shanghai and occupied the entire city.
So in Eiko, my protagonist of the novel, arrives in Shanghai in January 1942 the city is completely under Japanese control. Which means that even if there is war going on the Japanese are in relatively protected environment. Eiko is in Shanghai because of her husband's work and since her husband is manager in a big Japanese corporation, even among the Japanese they are part of a privileged group. They live in a nice apartment and in the early days of the Japanese take over, with Westerners still living around them, Eiko settles into a comfortable existence with a circle of cosmopolitan friends filling her days with lunches and dinners, visits to race courses and night clubs and summer evening open air concerts.
As the war progresses and Japan's control tightens Eiko starts to see what occupation means, for both her international friends and Japanese civilians, whose life becomes harder and harder. Even in her settled domesticity, with her two little boys and living close to her beloved older sister and family, life starts to get difficult. Seeing the suffering and deprivation that Japanese policies bring about, Eiko is caught between her Christian and Western values and her loyalty and love for her country.
This is the broad outline of the novel. And as you will have guessed, and as Professor Kong said, it is a story based on my own family's experience living in Shanghai during the war. The protagonist Eiko is loosely modeled after my mother. My mother was born in London in 1921. And although she left while she was still an infant she returned again during her teenage years. Her father, my grandfather, was a banker and was stationed in many different overseas posts. And the last being back in London as general manager of the bank. Although, my grandfather remained in Britain until he was repatriated in 1942. My mother returned to Japan in 1939 to marry my father whom she had actually met in London when he was student at Cambridge. But she was only 13 years old and that time and had no idea that she would end up marrying him.
As Professor Kong said, when I was growing up I can recall vividly my mother and grandmother, my father's mother who was living with us then, engaged in long gossip sessions over their after dinner tea while we children would be playing around them. On occasion, for example, I would bite into a piece of chocolate, decide that I didn't like the filling and try to shove the remaining half into my mother's mouth. This would immediately cause my mother and grandmother to reminisce of the war time when sugar was a valuable and scarce commodity. The two of them rolling their eyes over my unimaginable extravagance.
From there the conversation would broaden to other reminiscence. My mother's stories often touching upon her childhood and youth in London and also of her life in Shanghai. Those tidbits of information were the seeds sown within me and after a couple of decades pursuing a career as an International Civil Servant I decided to go back to University, research and write about my family background.
I started with London trying to find out what it was like for a Japanese family to be living in London in the 1920's and 30's. First of all, how many of them were there? And who were they? So my study turned out to be of the Japanese community in Britain as a whole. Which was very small, about 2,000 people at most. I discovered that apart from ex patriot business men and bankers, such as my grandfather, there were small shop owners and seaman. A number of whom married British women and took on British nationality. It was a true immigrant community, although so small that few immigration studies in Britain include the Japanese.
The London School of Economics kindly took me on as a mature student and I conducted my research towards a Ph.D. because I was in the economic history department I was encouraged to take a social scientific approach to my analysis, finding as many samples as I could to delve into the nature of the community. Although people who were adults in the 1920's and 30's were no longer around, I was able to find a number of individuals from different backgrounds who had been children at the time. Men, women in their 70's, 80's and 90's including my mother to give me first hand accounts, which I could use as raw data.
Once my Japanese and Britain study was completed the natural next step for me, given that I am dictated to finding out about my family history, was to look into the Japanese community in Shanghai covering the period when my parents lived there, which was from 1942 to 1946. Only this community turned out to be a completely different ballgame. For one, the number of Japanese living in Shanghai was far more than in London. By 1942 there were over 90,000 Japanese living in Shanghai, mainly in the Japanese portion of the International settlement known as Hongkew.
Most of these Japanese were tradesman. They lived in renovated Chinese homes, the front parts often turned into small shops. Their standard of living, much the same of that of the Chinese people. I quickly realized that my study of the Japanese community in Shanghai was going to be limited to a much narrower segment to the society to which my parent's belonged. That is the group of Japanese who work for the branches of big trading companies, banks and cotton mills and who lived in the foreign settlements. Even among this group my focus was still narrower because I was interested in finding out about the circle of friends and acquittances of my parents and my aunt and uncle who were living in Shanghai at the same time.
In early 1942 Shanghai, where they lived, was still very cosmopolitan and my mother and aunt had quite an international social circle. My aunt was friendly with British Quakers who were in Shanghai for relief work. And through them they came to know Jewish refugees. Among their Japanese friends there seem to be a high proportion of Christians and one in particular was a former Anglican minister who was on secondment to the Japanese navy to work on Jewish refugee affairs.
My family also had Chinese friends and acquaintances from different political leanings. Some favoring the nationalists and others on the side of Wang Jingwei known widely as the Japanese puppet. At this stage I was still thinking in terms of an academic study and decided to focus on the Japanese involvement in the work of the Quakers in Shanghai, Japanese policy towards the Jewish refugees who numbered about 17,000 by 1939 and also I am interested in looking into the Japanese Christians and their role and views on the war. And the relationships between Japanese and Chinese on a personal level.
During my research I came upon a study by the academic, Joshua A. Fogel. entitled The Other Japanese Community, in a book on Wartime Shanghai edited by Wen-hsin Yeh. And according to Fogel, "To speak of the Japanese community of war time Shanghai as a monolith would be to misrepresent its internal complexity to the extent that we know of the Japanese in Shanghai in the 1930's and 40's. We understand them to be a group closely self protected and dependent on the home government and military for its security. The great majority of Japanese in Shanghai in those tense years were most concerned with ensuring their Government's active involvement in protecting their community and it's interest against the Chinese. There were, however, less well known voices among the Japanese who called for peace and urged their compatriots and government to take Chinese interests into account."
Fogel concluded by saying, "No history of the period was complete without the stories of these remarkable individuals." So, a ha I thought, my line of research actually had academic grounds. I contacted Professor Fogel to see if he could point me in the right direction. The response that I received was rather discouraging. Something to the effect that it was too desperate and difficult and so it was.
All the bits were perfectly connected in my mind, centered around mainly my mother and aunt. But when it came to trying to weave the various threads into an academic study I was stumped. But I continued the research spending weeks in the Friends House library in London going over the minutes and correspondence of the Quakers in Shanghai. I also sought out and interviewed people who had lived in Shanghai. I poured over old newspaper microfiche in the National Diet Library. And I looked up the Repatriation boat records in the [inaudible 00:17:49] diplomatic archives. All with little idea of how to put everything together. Needless to say there was little urgency in my research, which went on only in trickles over a very long period of time.
It was by chance that I read the British novelist William Boyd's any human heart, which is a novel of a man's life all in diary form. It then occurred to me that in a diary of a young Japanese woman in Shanghai all my research could be brought to life. Although in a very different way from an academic study. So, this is how my Shanghai, 1942-1946, a novel came about.
What is unusual about the novel is the young Japanese woman's perspective of the Pacific war. And I wanted that to be reflected in the title, which turned out to be no easy task. There were a number of early attempts none, which really worked. How could the Japanese point of view be clearly indicated in the succinct way fit for a title? My Shanghai was suggested by a friend of mine and it clicked straight away. With my Japanese name appearing under the title it seemed to become obvious without any mention that it was a Japanese perspective. It was my publisher who added the years 1942-1946 and here to it becomes immediately obvious that it is the war years. I certainly now know how difficult it is to come up with a title for a book.
I would like to do a reading here just to give you a flavor of what the book is about. I am going to try to show some photographs but I hope I can push the button, the right button at the right time. Okay, so this is Thursday, 15 January, 1942, Café Hotel, Shanghai. "Is this uncontainable sense of liberation improper? But how could I not bask in my good fortune to be in this luxurious hotel, far away from stifling Japan? A country engulfed in a sense of moral superiority ever since Pearl Harbor. Shortly I'll be dressing up and applying makeup to my heart's content in preparation for our second wedding anniversary dinner. It can't be like the sad send off party for Hirosan's [inaudible 00:20:25] promotion and transfer to Shanghai with little to eat and drink even though it was supposedly a celebration. Austerity now a Japanese virtue to feed the samurai spirit that will bring victory to Japan. No, I will be gliding into the Grand Palace Hotel just as I used to go to Claridge's in my London debutante days. And will be seated in the glittering dining room as if in a Hollywood film.
Was our wedding only two years ago? How desperate I was to appear the perfect bride, trying to suppress my jittery nerves and discomfort, clad in a heavy silk bridal kimono, head weighed down by the wig and head dress. Quite an ordeal for a Western educated bride, unaccustomed to traditional Japanese ways moving from London to Japan to marry the heir of an Osaka merchant house. If it hadn't been for the warm acceptance of father and mother Kishimoto treating me with such respect as the bride of their precious first born son, I would have been completely overwhelmed by my life change. I couldn't believe it when father Kishimoto even canceled the business meeting to attend Benji's birthday party. A tea party for his daughter-in-law's dog.
Even so it certainly felt like a marriage into the Kishimoto clan rather than to Hiroson himself. I must surely have spent more time with Mother Kishimoto than with my husband. Here it is just the two of us living in this beautiful room with rose colored curtains and crystal lights on the seventh floor of the Café Hotel, overlooking the Bang and Huangpo, spread before me is a whole new world and lots of free time. A golden opportunity to keep a diary. I want to record my impressions and remember all that happens in life ahead of me. And perhaps one day, when I'm an old woman, I will pick it up and recall my 20 year old self. Or perhaps my grandchildren, or great-grandchildren will stumble upon it sometime. Oh the joy of scribbling in English!
I still feel the anticipation of approaching Shanghai. Everyone in Japan had said how wonderful it would be to live in the Paris of the Orient, now governed by the Japanese. The excitement mounted at the fourth morning at sea, noticing the water turn murky and sensing we were finally close to shore, but the muddy waters never seemed to end until suddenly the ship made a left turn and spread before us was the Bang with it's imposing Western buildings lining the waterfront magnificently. It reminded me of London and I felt quite a pang of nostalgia."
So starts Eiko's life in Shanghai. Once I decided that I would write a novel I was immediately faced with a different kind of challenge, starting from, how does one write a novel? Fortunately the UK is a wonderful country for adult education and I decided to enroll myself in a creative writing course. When the course finished I joined a writing workshop run by the same instructor and participated throughout the first draft. This was an enormous help to read out aloud to a group one's writings and receive feedback. Still, today I have a list of words stuck above my desk that reads, "Physical settings, closed dialogue, tension, drama, something going wrong, feelings." These are things I had never paid attention to when writing research papers but now had to keep in mind all the time.
The difficulty for me as a historian was how to impart historical information without making it read like a history text book. I will give you an example from the diary entry of Tuesday, 12 May, 1942. It is the day when Tamiko, Eiko's older sister takes her to visit the Uchiyama Book Shop. As those of you who are currently studying Lu Xun would know, Uchiyama Kanzo a Christian Japanese, ran the largest Japanese language store in Shanghai from 1917 to 1947 which, functioned as the major conduit of political and literary information to scores of Chinese intellectuals and writers who had studied in Japan. And Uchiyama was a very close friend of Lu Xun and Guo Moruo.
Here is what Eiko writes in her diary, "An older couple sat at a table hands cupped around Japanese tea mugs, as soon as the man saw Tamiko he waved his hand beckoning us to join. 'Yeah, Tamikosan, come, come you must have some tea!' His movements and demeanor reminded me of Humpty Dumpty, chunky with a meaty oval face and very little hair. His eyes crinkled with his broad smile cutting and endearing figure. His equally chunky wife was busy preparing tea for us and said, 'Sai Sao sweaty,' telling us to sit down and make ourselves comfortable. 'You've been keeping well?', Tamiko asked. He said he was busier than ever since the Japanese military made the American publishing company on Nanjing road come under his management. He tried to refuse not wanting to take over confiscated, [inaudible 00:26:08] property. But, said Uncle, the Japanese authority thought I was being unpatriotic. Don't you want your business to expand? It would be good for you they said to me, as if I would want to profit from this sad war."
Eiko's diary entry continues, "I found the Uchiyama's delightful but it was hard to believe that the shop was a famous Shanghai institution given their unassuming presence. You mustn't be deceived by appearance Eiko, Tamiko said. She told me that Uncle came to China in 1912 as traveling sales man for some Japanese eye medication. And because he had to travel so much he encouraged Aunty to start a business. So she set up shop on empty wooden beer crates in the entrance way of their home selling hymn books and Christian publications. And by the 1920's and 30's the shop had become a literary salon for left leaning Chinese and Japanese intellectuals."
Eiko continues writing in her diary, "When Tamiko told me how Uncle's keen sense of justice made him protect Chinese intellectuals who are sought after by Chiang Kai-shek anti leftest purchase including those marked as instigators of anti-Japanese movements. I wished daddy were here with us, he would get along so well with Uncle Uchiyama. The more I think of it, the more I see similarities between daddy and Uncle Uchiyama. It's so hard to imagine such a man of principal behind the Humpty Dumpty like figure. Just as daddy's amiable round face and pug nose belied his steely uprightness."
So this is how I introduce the Uchiyama bookshop. Although there was much more I would have liked to write about Uchiyama's, because he exemplified one of the main themes of the novel, even the short passages in Eiko's diaries could start to feel a bit too wordy. As much as I wanted the novel to reflect my historical research, in the end a novel is a novel. And it has to have a story and a plot. And what is called in the profession, a narrative arc. Which means that after the setting is revealed a series of events should happen around the protagonist creating a rise in the story's tension, then reaching a point of greatest tension and the turning point in the narrative arc followed by the unfolding of events and release of tension leading to the resolution, which is the end of the story.
So here again I struggled because this is where I had to be creative in a way that I never had before. My research helped to form the story which, boils down to the progression of the war, starting from what Shanghai was like shortly before Pearl Harbor when Japan seemed victorious to what happened to the Japanese in Shanghai after Japan lost the war. But a novel needs a plot in addition to the story and this is the main difference between fiction and non-fiction.
A story is made up of a succession of facts. For example, the king died after a long illness and the queen also died shortly thereafter. But if I say that following the death of the King, the queen was grief stricken and losing the will to continue on alone she also died shortly thereafter. Then here I am creating a plot. The big question for me was how to create a plot centered around Eiko, the protagonist. Because the protagonist was inspired by mother, I went back to the very basics and tried to figure out why I found her stories of Shanghai so fascinating. And, as professor Kong mentioned, [inaudible 00:30:01] as a child my mother's Shanghai sounded so wonderful, so rosy. But then I realized it was in the midst of the war. There must have been lots of hardship and deprivation. And yet to her the experience was over overwhelmingly positive. Why was that? Two answers came to mind, I mentioned that my aunt also lived in Shanghai at the time. This aunt was my mother's oldest sister, someone my mother looked up to and adored, because there was an eight year age gap the sisters spent little time together growing up.
By the time my mother moved to London with her parents at age 13, my aunt was already married and remained in Japan. So in Shanghai, for the first time, the grown sisters lived in close proximate. And with their children being the same age, for my mother, it was having beside her a beloved sister and best friend all in one. And as important was my mother's youth. She was 20 when she arrived in Shanghai. A poised but innocent young woman, and her four years in Shanghai, living through the war must have been truly formative experience. At least imaging so is what gave me the narrative arc. The transformation or coming of age of a young woman. Because it is diary form many readers assume there was an actual diary, but in fact it is really all made up. Of course bits and pieces and some of the antidotes are from my mother's stories.
In the early days of my research I did a recorded interview with her which, came out to a ten page transcript. This helped with the factual framework, the approximate dates of certain events, where they lived, some of the people they knew, some amusing episodes. But the dialogue, the relationships, the emotions these are all my creations. Funnily, once I started writing the protagonist quickly ceased to be my mother but a character of her own. Someone who is very loosely based on my mother. But that was not the case with some of the other personalities. Although, their names are changed I had specific models in mind when creating them.
One reader, a close friend of the family, challenged me saying he could recognize many of the people so how could I refer to them as fictional characters. Indeed, was this really a novel? In my own defense, I would say, that I have written an imaginative evocation, a version of the truth based on interviews and research. And that I am entitled to do this through the medium of fiction. But I do have to accept that I am treading a blurry line between fiction and biography. And I have taken the path of creativity over being true to real life characters. So readers must not believe that everything they read about these people is true.
I will read another diary entry of 6 February, 1942 when Eiko is taken by Tamiko to meet Quaker friends. "What are Quakers like Tamiko? T-total, homely and very serious, I asked. Poking my elbow into her arm as the tram headed to the French concession. I noticed the neighborhood had become more residential, the avenue lined with London Plane Trees, still leafless making it easy to catch glimpses of elegant Western apartment buildings and solid chimneys on tiled rooftops. She cast me a wicked glance and said, 'Of course, they are here to do good work and lead a very austere life. I am taking you to meet them so you will learn to behave.' The Lee's home was at the end of a row of neat two story brick terraces and we were greeted by a couple in their late 30's. So thoroughly English, tall and solid. Both with Chestnut brown hair and air of comforting reassurance. I felt immediately at home and slightly ashamed of having been rude about the Quakers.
Tea was laid out in the living room. A wooly tea cozy covering the pot. 'Our home is a Quaker gathering place, people from different nationalities come for study and discussion every week', Keith said. Maybe it's not so bad being a missionary, to arrive from England to this comfy abode, I thought, as I sunk deep into the soft sofa. 'Our first home in the summer of 1940 was a children's orphanage,' Joyce said cheerfully. 'The friends had just opened a home for children, picked up by social workers and we became the live in mother and father. That was quite an experience wasn't it Keith?' 'Indeed', Keith said with a soft laugh.
Those damaged walls from the earlier battles in Shanghai and that garage which, we called the Keeling station where children were hosed after being dropped off by the police car. Keith's blue eyes twinkled at the memory but I was horrified of the thought of living in a run down home filled with dirty children. I must have visibly flinched because Tamiko flashed me her knowing sideway glance and suppressed the smile. She's always been dismissive of my fastidiousness.
Joyce quickly caught on to the sisterly exchange. 'We dress the children in clean clothes, disinfecting and saving their old clothes for when they leave. Once the sores and skin troubles retreated they became part of the family.' I noticed her flash a playful glance at Tamiko which made me smile in spite of my queasiness. 'We miss the children,' Keith said. 'Some were pretty feisty characters but they looked after each other and one or two always pulled the group together making it feel like a real family. Remarkable considering the tough lives those kids had. Some were dismissed from factories being too weak from illness and a good many spent time in juvenile prison. Shanghai has many Wild Uncles as they are called, modern Pagans who make a living by training waifs and strays in criminal practices.'
I was amazed how the Lee's could be so affectionate towards those children who I would most likely try to avoid. Would I ever be able to see the humanity in those street children who cluster around me every time I step out on the street, pestering people and begging?"
Again you will notice that I am trying to impart historical information on the Quakers through encounters with Eiko and Tamiko. In real life I am pretty certain that my mother did not get to know the Quakers but my Aunt certainly did. What I don't know is how she came to meet them and I still kick myself today because over forty years ago when I was student here I had an opportunity to find out first hand. Out of the blue one day, when I was a student, I was invited to dinner by a Quaker couple who lived in Swarthmore who had known my Aunt. I remember so little of the occasion, not even their names. Of course, I had no idea then that I would be writing about them decades later. But still, when I think of the missed opportunity it really makes me want to kick myself repeatedly.
After the book came out my Aunt's daughter sent copies to a number of her old Shanghai contacts. And as one connection lead to another I was recently contacted by a woman who turns out to be the daughter of the Quaker couple who I call Keith and Joy Lee in the diary entry that I just read out. Now this was quite a shock to me. How was she going to find my book in which her family appears quite prominently including herself as a little baby born in Shanghai? To my relief I received an email from her which, read, "I have read your book and found it very interesting. I am touched in the way you included my parents and myself under different names. My mother's memoir has now been published as a book entitled, 'A Quaker Family in War Time Shanghai 1940-1946'. I believe your book and my mother's memoir have places where they ducktail. Shanghai was a most extraordinary city at the time. I'm certainly looking forward to reading this real memoir of Wartime Shanghai which, in addition to learning about their experiences should give me lots to think about on the distinctions between non-fiction and fiction, which I am sure go much deeper than using different names."
Which, brings me to my conclusion on what I learned as a historian from writing this novel. What I acquired through research in terms of learning I think would be the same whether I was writing history or fiction. But the point of view is very different. If I were a historian writing history I would be analyzing what I read trying to see if new primary evidence might shed a different light on what other historians have already uncovered or theorized. However, when it came to writing my novel I had to constantly remind myself that people living in the period at the time knew so very little of what we know now.
I had to take myself back in time, figure out what Eiko living in Shanghai during the war might know or not know of what was going on around her. For example, Eikos diary of 6 August, 1945 mentions nothing of the Atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. But she does muse about sensing a change in the tide of war. Now this was included, not because what she really sensed, but because readers know about the bombing and would expect some indication in the book of some momentous event. If it were real diary perhaps there wouldn't have even been an entry for that day.
What I learned is the difficulty of seeing history from the eyes of the actual participants. But it is only by acknowledging how it was at the time that a fair historical analysis can be made. One well meaning gentleman's reaction to my novel was, and here I quote again, "Her description of Japan's occupation of China was very interesting and seemed more even handed for the most part. Though she does not describe the more vicious incidents like the rape of Nanking, the antagonism and resentment by Chinese against Japanese can certainly be understood though it's good to know there were Japanese people trying to mediate. I am sure it will take many generations before Japan's relationship with China and Korea will become trusting."
Now it was quite eye opening to me that some people could read my novel as a historical account of Japan's occupation of China and interpret it only within the context of their own historical perspective. This book is about one young woman's moral navigation through a turbulent world where her Western Christian upbringing and her loyalty and love for her country are constantly at odds with each other. But her world is predominantly within a domestic setting. The dramas of her life confined within her daily activities revolving around family and friends. So I would be most pleased if at the end of the novel readers simply felt that they had a good read.
Thank you very much. There are a few other ... so this is Eiko and her son and Tamiko and her daughter that lived in close proximity. This is a real photograph of my mother and my brother and my aunt and my cousin. And this is Nanking Road. And then we go back to the beginning.