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.
“This world is made up of little stories. Those modest daily lives, those lives that may seem insignificant, they give the world shape – that’s what I believe“Soul Lanterns, Shaw Kuzki
This book was actually a recommendation from my dear friend Jon @ Wander with Jon, and I decided to check it out because I’m always up for anything written during World War II – and oh boy was I so surprised. I may not have the widest experience when it comes to reading middle grade novels, but this was so much darker than I expected it to be.
Soul Lanterns is a middle grade historical fiction novel following Nozumi and her friends as they seek the real reason behind the annual Floating Lanterns ceremony, and they learn and discover first-hand the secrets and stories of the people close to them on what happened during the Hiroshima bombing 25 years prior. This is a book that portrays both the suffering and gruesome details of that dreaded event, but also showcased a great amount of hope and penance. Based from what I currently know, Japan has a certain perspective towards the country’s role in the war, and it is totally different from the eyes of other people. Hence, I felt like Soul Lanterns broached that subject matter in a very different way, and made its readers see their side of the story.
The story and writing style definitely reads as middle grade, but the dark turn of events totally shocked me because I was expecting a more subtle and lighthearted approach. But as a reader, I really liked how this book focused on the victims of the bombing, because civilians are always going to be the greatest victims in any war, and how that will greatly affect their lives in the future if they do manage to survive that trauma. This book definitely nailed the purpose of wanting to preserve the stories of the victims’ lost loved ones, but also constantly remind everyone in the succeeding generations that war will never be a solution to anything, and that even in the darkest times, there is still a spark of hope.
I highly encourage everyone to read this, because it will absolutely make you think and reconsider. And it doesn’t also hurt that this is less than 200 pages of intimate and deep stories that you can devour in one sitting.
About The Author
Born in Hiroshima, SHAW KUZKI is a second generation A-bomb survivor. She received her MA from Sophia University and is the author of a number of books in Japan. Shaw Kuzki lives in Kamakura, Japan. *Soul Lanterns* is her first novel translated for U.S. readers.