Author Karin Tanabe’s Japanese father was three years old when the firebombing of Tokyo and Yokohama occurred in May of 1945—his very first memory was seeing his city on fire and hearing the cries of babies on the shore, where they had been carried for safety. While many Americans associate World War II with a parent or grandparent who fought bravely in Europe, Karin’s understanding of the war started with her father being attacked by American bombs.
These memories, as well as those of a family friend whose own wife and family were interned in a war relocation center, and additional friends who were born in captivity, piqued Karin’s curiosity, and spurred her to write a love story born out of one of the most unlikely places: a mixed-race internment camp. THE DIPLOMAT’S DAUGHTER is a captivating and informed tale of three young people divided by the horrors of World War II and their journey back to one another.
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A week later, Helene started to feel the baby kick. Christian was walking back from his second day at the German school when he saw his mother approaching. She had a smile on her face that belied her dismal surroundings. Christian had planned to tell her how his German abilities did not extend to writing essays in the language, but when he saw her happiness, he decided to delay the bad news. Within just a few days of his arrival, he’d learned why he couldn’t attend the American school. The elected spokesman for their side of the camp was intensely pro-German and anyone who sent their children to the American-style Federal School was deemed a traitor. There were whispers that one family’s food had been withheld for several days because their daughter, who spoke no German, enrolled there.
“Put your hand here,” Helene said when she’d reached Christian. She placed his right hand on the top of her stomach. She was wearing the dress that was given to women when they arrived, and Christian thought it made her look plain and homespun, definitely more Mrs. Tomato Soup than Mrs. Country Club.
They waited a few minutes, but nothing happened. Christian started to fidget, and his mother laughed at him. “Do you have somewhere to be? Wait to feel the baby.”
So they waited. Mothers walked by them and smiled, teenagers coming out of school slowed down and whispered, and finally, when Christian was about to pull his hand away, embarrassed, the baby kicked.
“I felt it!” he said, pressing his hand harder against his mother’s belly.
“I told you it would be worth the wait,” said Helene, her voice full of delight.
Christian thought of the tiny body inside his mother bursting with life. He imagined the growing organs, the heartbeat, the developing brain and he felt sorry for it. He wished it could be born far from loaded guns and barbed wire. At least it would have love, he thought, looking at his mother’s joyful face.
Helene kissed her son’s hand and walked off, letting him catch up to the other boys who were making their way from the school to the German mess hall, where they worked prepping the next day’s milk delivery. Internees in the camp woke up to a bottle of fresh milk on their stoop every day, one of the measures that the camp’s warden took to show that he was going well beyond the laws of the Geneva Convention.
The camp, it was whispered among the internees, was one President Roosevelt took great pride in, and the guards didn’t want any suicides or fence jumpers to ruin his vision. “They want happy prisoners,” his father had told him. “So just remember, it could be much worse.”
For Christian, sharing seven hundred square feet with another family and sleeping on floors with scorpions did not make for a happy prisoner. The view of miles of barbed-wire fencing him in did not help, either. The orphanage had changed him—he felt it in his newfound patience. Even gentleness. The way he felt toward Inge, had guarded her on the train, he was sure the old Christian would not have been as kind. But it didn’t mean he was elated about his circumstances.
Then there was the camp’s segregation. In two days, Christian had learned how bad it was. Though he had seen the large group of Japanese internees when he came in, invisible lines kept them apart inside. The Germans and Japanese, despite being allies in the war, occupied separate sections of the camp, ate in separate facilities, worked different jobs, and played different sports. The only places where they mixed were the hospital—as illness never discriminated—and the swimming pool. The few Italians were sprinkled among the Germans, but they kept to themselves, too.
Karin Tanabe is the author of The Gilded Years, The Price of Inheritance, and The List. A former Politico reporter, her writing has also appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and The Washington Post. She has made frequent appearances as a celebrity and politics expert on Entertainment Tonight, CNN, and The CBS Early Show. A graduate of Vassar College, Karin lives in Washington, DC. To learn more visit KarinTanabe.com and @KarinTanabe.
Karin Tanabe will be awarding a $15 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.