The Lantern Boats by Tessa Morris-Suzuki
For a slow ready to sink into, for a story as it may have happened, for a book where what you want to happen isn’t necessarily what will happen
Elly Ruskin is still struggling to settle. Half-Japanese by heritage, Elly was repatriated to Japan after the war, but Tokyo is a city she barely knows. And now she’s certain her new husband is having an affair with the enigmatic Japanese poet known as Vida Vidanto.
Yet Elly is not the only one suspicious of Vida.
The occupying American forces have their eye on her too. Kamiya Jun has been recruited to spy on the poet and find out why Vida spent her war years in China. He is perfect for the part. A war orphan, he has honed the art of becoming invisible in order to survive. But following Vida leads Jun to the Ruskins. And he soon finds himself delving into their private lives as well.
Then Vida Vidanto is found murdered in her apartment. Is it a case of mere jealousy or has there been a betrayal of a more dangerous kind?
Because Vida had more than one secret worth killing for.
This is not really a happy story, so definitely know that going in. Throughout the whole thing, there’s an edge of tension and fear, so even when things seem to be going fine, it all feels a bit perilous. That’s magnificently well captured because of the situations Elly and Jun each find themselves in, which are certainly anything but secure and comfortable.
This did take me a while to become interested in, but once it did, I was able to sink into it and slowly take it all in as I made my way through. This doesn’t feel like a book to rush through, but rather to carefully observe. The characters are easily what drive this, more than the plot. I was certainly curious to see how all of their lives would swarm together, but ultimately it was the intimacy of knowing each of their minds that kept me going.
The setting (Tokyo, Japan) and time frame (the Korean War) combined for a take on that time in the world that I haven’t seen before. From the perspective of foreigners watching the results of the war around them, invisible yet always present, it builds to feel desperately ominous. The fact that Elly has her own difficult stories only hinted at emphasizes the pain she must feel at seeing those stories in others.
Definitely stick around at the end for the author’s note(s) which give more detail about the period in the book and the research that went into it. Some of the characters are based on real people, some are based on common stories but no one individual. I loved learning a bit more about them.
Thanks to Netgalley and Joffe Books for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review!