Sherri L. Smith flips the script on historical fiction in her latest novel The Blossom and the Firefly, detailing the alternate side of WWII from the Japanese war effort to the love between a girl and a kamikaze pilot.
In the time she’s served the war effort, the war has already taken its toll on Hana. Tending to the pilots at the air force base, Hana ensures their last days are spent in comfort—mending and cleaning their clothes, providing hearty meals, and entertaining before their departure. Yet, none of these tasks can rid the look of despair in the boys’ eyes or the grief in Hana’s chest as she watches them depart, with the knowledge they’re already dead. It’s a feeling Hana herself is no stranger to, for a brush with death left her feeling much the same way: devoid of life.
Then she meets Taro, avid-musician-turned-kamikaze-pilot. Despite her resolve to detach herself, knowing closeness leads only to further heartbreak, the despair she feels evaporates the more she gets to know Taro. Though with each day, each moment, they grow closer, the more pressing their dwindling time together becomes and the more apparent that their love has a deadline.
The Blossom and the Firefly is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s an informative story that paints a vivid picture of the Japanese perspective of WWII, and it’s a fascinating approach that thrusts you directly into the grim realities of war and the macabre mentalities of kamikaze pilots. Although a story about war, the novel adopts a rather lackadaisical and mundane plot and pacing, where not much happens. The majority of the novel showcases Hana’s contributions to the war effort, Taro’s reticence and later acceptance of entering the air force, and the subtle brewing of their feelings for one another. On one hand, Smith’s more underhanded storytelling fosters realism, as Hana and Taro’s duties and feelings reflect those during that time and circumstance. However, with this slower pace and plot comes a sluggishness to the novel that chips away a bit from its intrigue.
The romance between Taro and Hana develops with equal slowness, equal subtlety; given the brevity of their time together, this pacing makes their budding relationship feel more natural, less rushed and insta-lovey despite their encounters taking place over 8 days. Rather, Smith deftly captures the sweet stirrings of new love born in such a short time, as well as the feelings of grief and resolution. In this area, as well as that of historical knowledge, the book flourishes.
For history buffs and romantics, The Blossom and the Firefly will open your minds and your hearts.