The Diplomat's Daughter
by Karin Tanabe
GENRE: Historical Fiction
Author Karin Tanabe’s Japanese father was three years old when the firebombing of Tokyo and Yokohama occurred in May of 1945—his very first memory was seeing his city on fire and hearing the cries of babies on the shore, where they had been carried for safety. While many Americans associate World War II with a parent or grandparent who fought bravely in Europe, Karin’s understanding of the war started with her father being attacked by American bombs.
These memories, as well as those of a family friend whose own wife and family were interned in a war relocation center, and additional friends who were born in captivity, piqued Karin’s curiosity, and spurred her to write a love story born out of one of the most unlikely places: a mixed-race internment camp. THE DIPLOMAT’S DAUGHTER is a captivating and informed tale of three young people divided by the horrors of World War II and their journey back to one another.
As soon as Beringer saw Christian’s size, he was very happy to enlist him into his milk prep ranks.
“You’re lucky you came to me first or you could have gotten one of those piss-crap after-school jobs that O’Rourke has been handing around like gumballs since the Wisconsin train came in,” he said. “They might have put you out working the crops with the Japanese. Big kid like you. And it’s only getting hotter. You want to till soil in a hundred and twenty degrees with mountain lions and black widow spiders lurking around you? Trust me, you don’t. Lucky you found the milkman before that happened.”
Christian started to thank him, but Beringer shoved a crate of empty milk bottles into his hands instead. “Wash these until you can see yourself in ’em. They’ll be refilled and delivered by the men tomorrow morning. You boys can’t work the first shift—you’ve got school. So just wash ’em and put ’em over there.” He pointed to a corner of the room that was filled floor to ceiling with empty, crated milk bottles.
“We get paid for this?” Christian asked Kurt as the two started washing in four large metal sinks. “I thought you couldn’t use money in camp.”
“Paid? I guess we get paid,” said Kurt. “If you call ten cents an hour getting paid. We barely use money in the camp. Instead they issue us fuzzy green fake coins, about five bucks’ worth a month. You can buy some junk with them in the store. Cigarettes. And drinks in the beer garden.”
“As in beer?” asked Christian, filling the first sink with soap and the second with cold water.
“Definitely. This is prison. The old men feel sorry for us. They’ll pour you as many as you can pay for. And then if they’re drunk enough, which they always are, they’ll slip them to you for free, as long as you’ll listen to them talk about the war. Germany’s going to win, in case you didn’t know.”
Christian was on his tenth set of a dozen bottles, soaping them and scrubbing them with a sparse bottlebrush, when he heard a high-pitched scream. Kurt let his already clean bottle bob in the soap as they listened. It was followed by a louder scream, and then another, before everything went quiet. The screams had come from somewhere outside the mess hall. Beringer dropped the milk bottle he was holding, which smashed on the floor. He jumped up and ran out the closest door, followed by the boys.
Christian went out last, as he was by the farthest sink and was the least comfortable around Beringer. When he got outside, he could see everyone gathered in a circle around something.
“What is it?” Christian asked a younger boy who was also hanging back.
“Someone got hit,” he replied.
“I know who it is,” Christian heard Kurt say. “It’s that woman from near the school. It’s Christian Lange’s mother.”
Christian pushed in front of the other boys, shoving them so hard that one of them fell, cutting his hands on the fragmented milk bottle shards that were all around the loading area of the mess hall.
Christian, his shirt and pants wet from the washing, looked at his mother lying on the ground. She was faceup, her legs dirty and limp, her eyes closed. Terrified, he held his breath as if he were about to plunge into a pool before he dropped down next to her. He put his hands on her face and checked to make sure there was breath. It was faint but there. His eyes traveled down, and he saw that there was blood all over the bottom of her dress.
Karin Tanabe is the author of The Gilded Years, The Price of Inheritance, and The List. A former Politico reporter, her writing has also appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and The Washington Post. She has made frequent appearances as a celebrity and politics expert on Entertainment Tonight, CNN, and The CBS Early Show. A graduate of Vassar College, Karin lives in Washington, DC. To learn more visit KarinTanabe.com and @KarinTanabe.