June 09, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Sword and Blossom

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Peter Pagnamenta
publisher
Penguin
genre
Nonfiction
We gave it an A-

When he was sent to Tokyo in 1904, British army captain Arthur Hart-Synnot became smitten with Masa Suzuki, a barber’s daughter. They set up house (frowned upon at the time but not prohibited) and had two children, but were often separated for years by his military obligations. Using historical records and hundreds of his letters (hers were lost), Peter Pagnamenta and Momoko Williams stitch together a fascinating narrative in Sword and Blossom that spans decades of upheaval (not to mention a flu pandemic and 1923’s devastating Tokyo earthquake). The self-centered Hart-Synnot is not always sympathetic, but you’ll be stirred by their long-distance ardor, frustration, and loneliness.

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