That steamy, bloody day in 1944 when the Americans stormed the island of Guam, the moment had come. Seto’s moment of decision. Should he charge back over the mountain and face the US Marines with his rifle and bayonet? Or should he be done with it? He would disembowel himself like a true samurai.
If he did neither, Seto knew he would shame his family name, bring shame to the emperor and Japan. His head throbbed at this moment of decision. Bile rose in his throat.
(from No Surrender Soldier, pages 8-9)
No Surrender Soldier is a young adult novel set in Guam in 1972 during the Vietnam War. Fifteen-year-old Kiko is worried about his older brother, Sammy, who is off fighting, and his grandfather, Tatan, who is becoming harder to handle due to dementia. He would rather be hanging out with his friends and the girl he likes, but instead, he is forced to either work in his parents’ store or babysit Tatan. When Tatan loses himself in memories of the Japanese occupation of the island during World War II and attacks a Japanese man, Kiko learns that his mother was raped by a Japanese soldier during the war. He doesn’t know how to handle this knowledge or his concern about his brother and grandfather, and he is filled with murderous rage when he comes face to face with a Japanese man hiding in the jungle behind his home.
Interspersed with Kiko’s first-person narrative is the story of Isamu Seto, a Japanese soldier who never surrendered when the Americans took over the island in 1944. Christine Kohler, who based Seto on the true story of Shoichi Yokoi (which she explains in an Author’s Note at the end of the book), describes how one man can survive for 28 years in hiding, living off the land. Seto lives in his memories of his childhood in Japan and fights to keep from losing his mind when the ghosts of his fallen comrades haunt him at night. And when Seto sees a boy, an old man, and a dog prowling through the jungle, his fear of being caught after all these years takes over.
No Surrender Soldier is an emotional tale of the effects of war years after peace has been declared, both on the survivors of the atrocities and the children born long after the fact. Kiko is a typical teenager, focused on himself, embarrassed by his grandfather’s behavior, and shy around the girl he likes. He has always dismissed the war stories told by the old timers, until it gets personal. Kiko can’t help but be angry, but it soon spirals out of control. It’s not hard for readers to feel for Kiko, with all he is dealing with at home, and Kohler does a great job developing and evolving this character.
While billed as a novel for young adults, No Surrender Solider deals with some heavy issues, like rape and dementia. There is an intense war scene and a pretty graphic scene involving the slaughter of an animal for food. No Surrender Soldier is not only a story about war but also a story about relationships, namely Kiko’s ties to his grandfather, his parents, and his best friend and how his anger and inner turmoil threaten and also strengthen these bonds. Kohler brings the jungles of Guam to life in this novel and shows how war leaves deep scars on a country and its people for decades to come.
Disclosure: I received No Surrender Solider from Merit Press for review.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.