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.