Title: Kami & KAZE
Author: Wena Poon
Publisher: Sutajio Wena
””Kami kaze,” he pronounced it in the proper Japanese way. “It’s not one word. It’s two. Two separate, beautiful words.””
I look forward to Wena’s books, and they never fail to disappoint. This time, she has done it again.
Set in post-World War II Japan, Kami & KAZE is about Kate, an American Public Health Officer, her relationships in Japan (her mother, her driver, Shinji, her colleagues) and her struggles to aid Japan to recovery. The daughter of a war photographer, Kate heads to Japan for a better outlook, and eventually learns to appreciate the divine winds which seem to blow against her direction.
In a series of understated scenes, Wena manages to capture the tension between the liberal Kate, fighting advances and unmentioned sexism in her everyday work life, and a more conservative Shinji, whose wisdom in the cultures of Japan and his tragic past, very well. Kate’s banter with Shinji in the car brings out the situation both of them are facing in post-War Osaka – Kate’s well-intentioned interventions are often met with obstacles, mostly to do with her own ignorance or her unintentional lack of respect of Japanese culture.
Shinji, on the other hand, holds a stiff upper lip despite the tragedies set upon him during the war. Unwilling to participate, yet saddled with the threat of execution if he did not draft himself into the army during his teenage years, Shinji experienced the loss of his father and sister, having to masquerade himself as a woman to avoid the authorities. While empathetic to Kate’s well-intentioned programs, he reminds her of the importance of the culture to the people, educating her as they go along.
Kate’s mother brings about the other look at the Americans during this particular period – one of haughtiness in an you-better-be-grateful-that-we’re-doing-this-for-you way. While she was quite unlikeable initially, spewing assumptions like no one’s business, she ends up becoming the ignorant comic relief of the story as she attempts to assimilate in order to have a better relationship with Miko, the housekeeper and Shinji’s mother.
The story was short and sweet, but I felt that it was a good length to encapsulate Kate’s and Shinji’s understanding of each other and start of their freedom from their past. Any longer, and I felt that it would have started to drag. On an added note, I loved the little snippets and photographs at the end of the book, especially the phrase which went “How long more should I write to meet the minimum amount of pages?”