The Diplo­mat’s Daughter

Karin Tan­abe
  • Review
By – January 23, 2017

The Diplomat’s Daugh­ter is a riv­et­ing tale of young love set against the back­drop of World War II. The nov­el begins in Jan­u­ary 1943, and spans two con­ti­nents as it relates the sto­ries of teenagers whose lives are torn asun­der as a result of the War.

Emi Kato, the sophis­ti­cat­ed and intel­li­gent daugh­ter of a Japan­ese diplo­mat, is a tal­ent­ed clas­si­cal pianist. Her music attracts Leo Hart­mann, a class­mate at an elite school in Vien­na. She is the only non-Aus­tri­an stu­dent and Leo is the school’s only Jew­ish stu­dent. They become insep­a­ra­ble as he suf­fers tor­ment­ing from the Hitler Youth stu­dents and she is taunt­ed because of her rela­tion­ship with him.

In the wake of grow­ing anti-Semi­tism, and the hor­rors of Kristall­nacht, the Hart­mann fam­i­ly, wealthy own­ers of a fac­to­ry, is forced to leave their com­fort­able life in Vien­na, and even­tu­al­ly, through the help of Nono Kato, the father of Leo’s friend Emi, find refuge in the Jew­ish ghet­to of Shang­hai. The char­ac­ter of Nono Kato is loose­ly based on the cel­e­brat­ed real life right­eous gen­tile Chi­une Sug­i­hara, a Lithuan­ian diplo­mat who risked his life by issu­ing forged Japan­ese pass­ports to Jews flee­ing the atroc­i­ties in Europe.

Although a small Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty exist­ed in Shang­hai pri­or to the War, the Jews who arrived after 1937 soon became restrict­ed to the Inter­na­tion­al Set­tle­ment, known as the Hongkew Ghetto.

Emi and her fam­i­ly, through a com­pli­cat­ed twist of events, find them­selves in an intern­ment camp in Texas, estab­lished to house Japan­ese and oth­er indi­vid­u­als sus­pect­ed of espi­onage. While detained there, Emi meets and falls in love with Chris­t­ian, a young Ger­man Amer­i­can boy whose fam­i­ly was sent to the intern­ment camp after being accused of sup­port­ing the Nazi Par­ty. Even­tu­al­ly, Emi and her fam­i­ly are freed from the intern­ment camp and return to Tokyo.

As World War II rages on, Emi is des­per­ate for news from Leo and Chris­t­ian. Twists and turns ensue as Emi’s fam­i­ly strug­gles to sur­vive hunger and the bomb­ings in war-torn Japan. While Leo works to pro­vide for his par­ents in the impov­er­ished ghet­to in Hongkew, Chris­t­ian enlists in the Unit­ed States Army, and is sent to fight the Japan­ese in the Mar­shall Islands.

The Diplo­mat’s Daugh­ter pro­vides great insights into the phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al depri­va­tions suf­fered by the char­ac­ters, inno­cent teenagers whom the war robbed of their care­free childhoods.Tanabe also illu­mi­nates the vagaries of dai­ly life in the Jew­ish ghet­to of Shang­hai and in a intern­ment camp in Texas in a way that affords the read­er a clear­er per­spec­tive of life away from the bat­tle­fields but still very much impact­ed by the hor­rors of war.

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams, mom, grand­mom, avid read­er, some­time writer, born in Havana, raised in Brook­lyn, resid­ing in Long Beach on Long Island. Long­time for­mer One Region One Book chair and JBC liai­son for Nas­sau Hadas­sah, cur­rent­ly pre­sent­ing Inci­dent at San Miguel with author AJ Sidran­sky who wrote the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion based on her Cuban Jew­ish refugee family’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. Flu­ent in Span­ish and Hebrew, cer­ti­fied hatha yoga instructor.

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