Bridge of Scarlet Leaves (book)
Creators: Kristina McMorris
Book cover. Courtesy of Kensington Books
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Novel by Kristina McMorris that centers on an interracial romance between a white woman and a Nisei man during World War II.
The novel's protagonist is Madeline Louise "Maddie" Kern, a beautiful violinist who is nineteen when the novel begins just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Maddie lives with her overprotective older brother TJ, a star pitcher on the USC baseball team, in Boyle Heights, a multi-ethnic neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles. Two years prior, a car accident killed their mother, and their father—who caused the accident—has been in a nearly comatose state of shock since. Maddie has been secretly dating TJ's best friend, Lane Moritomo, a student at Stanford, for the past few months. The Nisei son of wealthy Issei parents—his father is a manager of a Japanese bank—Lane had reluctantly gone along with Maddie's wishes to keep things quiet. But inevitably, word gets out, and both families strongly object. Lane proposes, and the couple elopes, marrying in Washington state on Dec. 6, 1941, to avoid anti-miscegenation laws.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brings many complications. Facing scorn and outright hatred from friends, relatives, and the larger community, the war also brings the internment of Lane's Issei father. Wanting to spare Maddie further problems, Lane breaks up with her and tries to " voluntarily evacuate " inland with his mother and younger sister, eventually meeting strong resistance and turning back. Meanwhile, Maddie decides to fight for Lane and reunites with him at Manzanar . Eventually, both Lane and TJ enlist—Lane is among the Nisei admitted to the Military Intelligence Service Language School in late 1942 and becomes an interpreter and interrogator in the Pacific War—while Maddie finds herself pregnant. The latter part of the book alternates between Maddie's story in Manzanar and later after she resettles in Illinois, TJ's story of becoming a POW of the Japanese while pining for Maddie's friend Jo Allister back home, and Lane's Pacific War experiences.
The book includes a lengthy "Author's Note" that discusses the background of the book and includes a section of historical liberties taken; a five-page section of "Asian-Fusion Recipes"; and a "Reading Group Guide" that includes fourteen discussion questions.
While the main characters are all fictional, some of the minor characters are real people, including USC baseball coaches Sam Barry and Rod Dedeaux and violinist Mischa Mischakoff among others. At Manzanar, the Moritomos become targets during the December 1942 Manzanar riot/uprising ; author McMorris drew on the experiences of Elaine Black Yoneda, the white wife of Kibei activist Karl Yoneda , in creating Maddie's story. Eventually, Maddie, along with Lane's mother and sister, are among those taken out of Manzanar and held at the Cow Creek camp for their own protection. From there, they move to a farm in Illinois, where they work for a kindly widower and discover a generally welcoming community. Some of Lane's exploits in the Military Intelligence Service draw on real stories told by MIS veterans. A Nisei character trapped in Japan and conscripted into the Japanese army against his will also plays a key role in the plot.
Background and Historical Accuracy
Author McMorris is the daughter of Junki Yoshida, a Japanese immigrant from Kyoto, and Linda Yoshida, a European American. The Yoshidas started a successful business making and selling Asian-themed sauces under the "Mr. Yoshida" brand name. McMorris graduated from Gresham (Oregon) High School and Pepperdine University. She was also a child actor who continued her acting career as an adult, while also starting a wedding/event planning company and hosting a local Portland TV show on weddings for six years. While working a cookbook based on her maternal grandmother's stories, she learned of her grandparents' courtship and the existence of letters her grandfather wrote to her grandmother during World War II. Those letters became the inspiration of her first novel, Letters from Home (2011). Bridge of Scarlet Leaves , her second novel, was inspired by stories of a family friend in the Military Intelligence Service who had a brother in the Japanese military, and McMorris' later discovery of mixed-race families in the Japanese American concentration camps. Her research for the book included interviews with Nisei MIS veterans and a visit to Manzanar in addition to book research.
Relative to other similar novels, the history presented in the book is quite accurate. While nearly all Japanese Americans from Boyle Heights went to Poston and not Manzanar, the story has the Moritomos returning to Little Tokyo after their attempted "voluntary relocation," so it is plausible that they could have been sent to Manzanar. There is some dramatic license in a scene in which Maddie walks to the family tailoring shop in Boyle Heights from Little Tokyo (page 160; while theoretically possible, this would be a very long walk). Maddie's father is also sent to the Crystal City internment camp in early 1942 (144); the first Japanese Americans didn't arrive there until March 1943, and as a camp designated for families, her father would not have been sent there.
Mainstream reviews for the book were uniformly positive, and it was a finalist for two romance novel awards in 2013.
|Awards||Finalist, RITA Award, Novel with Strong Romantic Elements, Romance Writers of America, 2013|
Carstensen, Angela. School Library Journal Blog , March 13, 2012. ["The informative author's notes and inclusion of several 'Asian Fusion' recipes make the book even richer. Fans of romance, historical fiction, or World War II stories will all find enjoyment here."]
Kirkus Reviews , Feb 5, 2012. ["A sweeping yet intimate novel that will please both romantics and lovers of American history."]
Publishers Weekly , Jan 9, 2012, 28. ["Though the prose is too often hackneyed, this gripping story about two 'brothers' in arms and a young woman caught in between them hits all the right chords."]