Review by Professor Emeritus Joyce Lebra August 11, 2014
Fujiwara here recounts a terrifying journey home from Manchuria with three young children in the final chaotic days of World War II. The family was in Manchuria as part of the Japanese colonial occupation there. The trip took several months during which they suffered cold and snow, often on foot and shoeless, shortages of food, clothing and housing, various illnesses, and encounters with unsympathetic bureaucrats before they made it home. Her oldest child was five and the youngest an infant she had to carry on her back. When milk ran out she feared fro the life of her listless infant. One of the worst privations they faced was the lack of water, when their mouths were so dry they could barely speak. A concern that was subsumed under the start struggle for survival was the fact that her five-year-old was missing school.
The odyssey called on all the courage and determination Tei could summon to avoid advancing Soviet forces. Fearing that she would not survive the ordeal, on her return she wrote her memoir as a testament for her children. Her story has resonances with our daily media accounts of the displacement, wounding, killing, and rape of women and children in violence around the world. She was more fortunate than many, arriving home with herself and her three children basically intact and able to reunite with husband and father.
Nana Mizushima has chosen the daunting challenge of translating this book from Japanese, the world’s most complex writing system, with grammar to match. She had the advantage of being raised by Japanese-speaking parents, not to diminish the literary and cultural sensitivity with which she accomplished this feat, with the aid of her mother. Readers might wish that place names in Korea and Manchuria were not rendered in Japanese, though a glossary is provided. Mizushima is to be commended for providing Western readers with this chilling account of some wrenching human aspects of the end of World War II.
The book became an almost instant best-seller in Japan, running to forty-six printings and appearing in movie and television versions.
Professor Joyce Lebra (born December 21, 1925), also known as Joyce Chapman Lebra, is an American historian of Japan and India. Lebra spent her childhood in Honolulu and received her B.A. and M.A. in Asian Studies from the University of Minnesota. She received a Ph.D. in Japanese History from Harvard/Radcliffe, and was the first woman Ph.D. in Japanese History in the U.S.
The following reviews are on Amazon.com and/or Goodreads.com
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, August 16, 2014
By Annette Brant
Fascinating story of a perspective we rarely hear about. A must read.
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a rare chance., August 10, 2014
By nobuko -
The reality is, Japanese are very good at not showing their true feelings. Hardships, sufferings, emotional pain, embarrassments, and oppositional feelings are often kept under wraps except for the most intimate occasions. For the Japanese, the unsaid is often more important than the expressed. But this young woman, during a time when she thought she may not survive the physical affects of her long journey from Manchuria in 1945, had the courage to chronicle her journey in frank detail. Instead of burying the memories, she bravely recorded them whether or not the story flattered herself, her children, her friends, and her husband. Maybe the suffering and death she witnessed put her somewhere beyond the need to keep the veneer intact. Tei Fujiwara is very brave to tell such a raw story, and I think that the fact that her memoir sold millions in Japan and was portrayed on film shows that the people of Japan admired her courage, too, and that some wished that they could express their own memories of the war with such honesty. Nana Mizushima’s wish that the reader “forgets they are reading a translation” has come true, I think. My only wish is that we can be told what happened to some of the people in the story. Did they survive? What became of them? Did the reconstructed letters get delivered? Did the children of Mrs. Sakiyama, Jiro and Ichiro, survive? For this reason, the story stays in the mind and haunts you like an unfinished book. The book took me two days to finish, but will stay with me for a long time. Maybe the rest of what I wonder about will remain unsaid.
5.0 out of 5 stars I found it an interesting story and an easy read- a story of tough love and determination that ..., August 10, 2014 By Clay Castleberry
I read this marvelous translation of the memoirs of a Japanese woman who , as a refugee, made her way from Manchuria to her homeland , immediately after WWII. It was a gripping story of hardships adversity and courage on her part to get herself and her three children home agaoiin.
I found it an interesting story and an easy read- a story of tough love and determination that turned out well in the end. three cheers for kindles.
5.0 out of 5 stars Poor living conditions, August 5, 2014
By Carrie Roswell
This is a powerful, inspirational, and at times heartbreaking true story of a Japanese woman living as a refugee in Korea and trying to make her way home with her three young children (including an infant) after WWII. This is a story I will remember! As a mother and a woman, the struggles and challenges Tei Fujiwara faced seem unimaginable. Poor living conditions, exposure to the elements, malnutrition, disease and the inhumanity of others surely broke many others living under these conditions. Her strength and will to survive and to keep moving forward and to care for her children was remarkable. This is an important historical memoir, translated in a very readable and engaging style. Thank you to Nana Mizushima for finally bringing this story to the American reader.
5.0 out of 5 stars A personal story that tells a remarkable history lesson, By Sally Creevy July 9, 2014
This review is from: Tei: A Memoir of the End of War and Beginning of Peace (Kindle Edition)
Tei’s memoir is moving and insightful. It is a piece of the World War II story that is untold. I was moved to tears by Tei’s desperation, strength and fortitude. She reveals such raw emotions in trying to get her three small children home. The part about her carrying each child across a raging river is riveting. She also reveals the darker side of despair and the lengths a mother will go to to protect her children.
Nana Mizushima’s translation is seamless. She includes a great glossary and pictures at the end that really add to the understanding of this time period.
Nieret Mizushima’s review Apr 13, 14
4 of 5 stars
Read in April, 2014
This is a riveting and heart-rending story of a mother who will go to all ends to protect her children despite the odds. The translator, Nana Mizushima, is my sister and when she asked me to read an early version of the book, I did not know that I would not be able to put it down. I was intrigued with the the introduction explaining how our mother choked up during the reading of the book (she seldom talks about her experiences during this time and she tears up even less). Then I was curious about a part of history (the Japanese in Manchuria) of which I know little. Finally I was riveted with the evolving survival tactics of people in these extremely challenging times. Growing up Japanese-American, I found it difficult to understand some of the cultural bounds that obliged compliance with cruel and impossible situations. Much of the Japanese outlook was 180 degrees from my americanized view and was difficult to absorb. Even the epilogue was hard to comprehend. Perhaps, that is part of what makes the memoir so compelling - to try to understand a little more of other cultures and how it creates a basis for a behavior today. The story is one that shares, at the granular level, the misery of war suffered by the people of Japan. This book is a “must read”.
Caroline Matano Yang’s review Apr 30, 14
5 of 5 stars
Read in April, 2014
“Tei”….a powerful, moving story of a mother’s desperate struggle to evacuate her 3 and 5 year old boys and baby daughter from Manchuria after Japan’s defeat in WWII. With her husband shipped to the Soviet Gulag, Tei encounters selfishness, indifference even cruelty among her fellow evacuees and the Japanese soldiers, with acts of kindness and compassion mixed from the Koreans who suffered greatly under Japanese occupation, the Russian soldiers , and finally the Americans, during the year-long evacuation through North Korea down to the 38th Parallel, and finally to war-ravaged Japan.
From a typically modest and cultured Japanese mother, circumstances force Tei to become a tough, outspoken woman to protect her precious brood. Her memoir is not only about suffering through the bitter winter, the manure-filled freight cars, the gnawing hunger, and death from disease and starvation, but also includes moments of humor, romance, and beauty.
“Tei” reminds us of what the Syrian and other refugees must be experiencing today in similar circumstances. It is a story without boundaries for all time.
Caroline Matano Yang, Former Executive Director, Japan-US Educational Commission (Fulbright Program)
B Forshay’s review May 05, 14
5 of 5 stars
Read in April, 2014
Tei – By Tei Fujiwara, Translated by Nana Mizushima
Become a firsthand observer of the author’s journey of her family’s escape from war and starvation. Tei is a story of a Japanese woman and her 3 young children escaping from invading Russian forces in China during WWII. It’s remarkably more about her journey and trials than the war. The reader becomes a witness to human nature at the base level of survival, raw and exposed. Experiencing the disparities of title and class plus the nature of humans in the turmoil of war, the author struggled to hold her young family together as she was fleeing for their lives. Her husband’s call to duty kept him behind leaving Tei to make her own way, often becoming the leader and helping others from her community prevail. The reader experiences the passage firsthand with the author as she and her children endure, day-to-day, hour-to-hour, many times not certain they would make it another day.
The reader comes to grips firsthand with the cultural issues of the region, the people, the encroaching war and ultimately the reality of feeding her family. Sometimes traveling, sometimes waiting, Tei and her three children literally had only the clothes and food they left with. Set in Manchuria during the Russian invasion of China deposing the Japanese population, the civilians were left largely to fend for themselves. By the end of the story, many months later, the reader will have formed very specific opinions of the people involved, their actions, and choices made. You may find yourself uttering judgmental critiques about the people and events in this story. Many of the characters did not make it “home”. You cannot remain neutral in this story.
A memoir describing a mother’s determination of survival in wartime, defeating overwhelming obstacles, death and hunger.
Chuck Nemer’s review May 17, 14
5 of 5 stars
Read from May 15 to 17, 2014
The story of Tei Fujiwara is amazing. I found myself in equal parts, amazed, humbled, and terrified if I could ever live that standard of relentlessness and courage. It also makes me realize how thin a veneer civilization is. The lessons learned for me are to take hope when confronted with ultimate challenges that the human spirit CAN rise to the occasion, and the infinite capacity of people to change,endure, forgive, and grow. I’m a voracious reader and can whip through a book in a couple days. usually in the last quarter of a book, it starts to feel stale and too long and I have to force myself to finish the book, leaving me a touch dissatisfied. Not here... Two days and I wanted more. Nana’s style of translation made it a smooth flow and I want to know more know about Tei’s life.
Ansley Clark’s review May 21, 14
5 of 5 stars
Read in May, 2014
For the past several nights, I have been curled up around this book. Tei’s story is impossible to forget, a bone-achingly sharp and beautiful reminder of my privilege.
This is one of those very special stories that one encounters from time to time, whose characters refuse to leave you, long after you’ve stopped reading. I found my thoughts returning again and again to the details of Tei’s survival through a nearly impossible ordeal--her long journey with three children, her loneliness, her constant fatigue. In one incredible moment, Tei manages to sustain herself and her young children on miso paste mixed with muddy rice paddy water.
Tei’s story gave me a perspective on the events surrounding WWII which I’d previously never encountered in my history books. As an American, I’m ashamed to say I know very little about Japanese history after WWII, and reading this book was an eye-opener to the complexities and terrible events of the 20th century.
Nana Mizushima’s careful translation is starkly clear, bell-like. The details of the story--the food, the landscape, Tei’s daily battles to live and somehow support her children--are all fascinating. Nana Mizushima works these detail into the prose with a simple elegance.
In the afterword, Tei writes: “I am sixty-five years old now and know that this book is likely to be the most valuable heirloom I leave behind.”
These words couldn’t be more true. I am so happy that Tei’s voice has finally been translated from its original Japanese. It is high time Tei’s story became available to American and other English-speaking audiences. Tei is a true feminist tale, a testament to a woman’s resourcefulness, determination, and will to survive.