Cherry blossom tree and pagoda

The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

“An emotional, powerful and heart-breaking read that delves into a forgotten history of post-war Japan”

Genre: Historical Fiction


Japan, 1957. Seventeen-year-old Naoko Nakamura’s arranged marriage will secure her family’s status in their traditional Japanese community. However, Naoko has fallen for an American sailor, and to marry him would bring great shame upon her entire family. When it’s discovered Naoko carries the sailor’s child, she’s cast out in disgrace and forced to make unimaginable choices with consequences that will ripple across generations.

America, present day. Tori Kovač is caring for her dying father and finds a letter containing a shocking revelation. Setting out to learn the truth, Tori’s journey leads her to a remote seaside village in Japan where she must confront the demons of the past to pave a way for redemption.

Inspired by true events, The Woman in the White Kimono illuminates the story of one woman torn between her culture and her heart, and another woman on a journey to discover the true meaning of home.

Why I loved it

I fancied a break from crime thrillers and decided to dive into a novel that would transport me to a different time and place, and take me on an emotional rollercoaster. I was not disappointed. Johns’ writing is absolutely gorgeous to read; it’s like eating a succulent, rich piece of fruit: so sweet to read but such depth to its flavour. Her elegant writing made me repeatedly stop and re-read sentences so I could appreciate their beauty all the more. Naoko’s emotions are conveyed effortlessly, but are by no means devoid of sadness. On the contrary, it was heart-breaking to witness Naoko’s voice being repeatedly silenced and have her life controlled by her father for the sake of their family name.

I liked the alternating chapters between the two women in different timelines. It kept me engaged and intrigued as I was asking myself how these two women were connected. I felt like an investigator, gradually trying to connect the dots between Naoko and Tori. Johns has done a superb job at exhibiting how events from the past can have a very long reach to the present.

The chapters from Naoko’s perspective were incredibly moving, and it seemed to be one heart-wrenching event after another for her. Just when I thought things couldn’t become worse for her, or when I thought some balance was begin to re-establish itself, something else happened to bring tragedy to her life all over again. Somehow, though, I kept hoping that something good would happen for Naoko, which is why I was so eager to keep reading.

Japanese woman in bamboo forest

The cruelty of some individuals towards others was painful to read at times, and almost unbearable to imagine myself in Naoko’s and other women’s positions. Yet, it was Naoko’s persistence, other women’s kindness, and sisterly love that kept them all going and kept hope alive, however small it was. Such tenacity was uplifting and inspirational to read, and it was encouraging to read how no matter how dismal circumstances are, love can still exist and thrive.

Japan, its history, and culture have always fascinated me, and this book gave me wonderful insight into Japanese culture and traditions. I felt completely immersed in the world Johns re-created, which is why I enjoyed this book so much more. Although it is fiction based on fact, it was utterly shocking to discover what those facts actually were. It was like uncovering the invisible casualties of the Second World War, men, women, and children who were shamed, disgraced, and cast out all because of love. Johns’ book has opened up a whole new world and history to me, and it’s one I think needs to be told and shared.

Overall, The Woman in the White Kimono is an emotional, powerful, and heart-breaking read that delves into a forgotten history of post-war Japan. Just when you think events cannot become more tragic, they do, but do not despair. Just like Naoko, have hope and courage, and you won’t be able to put this book down.

Why you should read it

If you love historical fiction novels that really play with your emotions, and you relish beautiful and elegant writing, this is a book for you.

Rating: 5/5

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