Book review by Aarene Storms: Under the Broken Sky

Friday, September 25, 2020

Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai (novel in verse)

Natsu is only twelve years old and her sister Asa is even younger when the Japanese army comes to her village and conscripts all the men and boys to fight in the war. 

But when the Japanese lose the war, the whole village flees the incoming Soviets, walking across Manchuria in hopes of finding a new home. 

Their story is bleak, and seems hopeless most of the time, but Natsu is stubborn.

Here's one short poem from the middle of the book:

Water is as precious
as food here. The well
is iced over this morning.

We throw the portrait
of the emperor into the fire
to melt the ice so we can drink

the water, so we can warm
ourselves. At least he's good
for something, finally.

The publisher's blurb on the book cover makes it seem like selling Asa to a Russian family so that she will be fed and survive is the center of the narrative, but really, it's a small scene towards the end, and quickly resolved. The rest of the story is not so easily resolved, especially in light of refugees facing similar perils in the modern world.

For best results (unless you know a lot more about the history of Manchuria in WWII than I did), read the author's Afterword before the rest of the book to gain some historical perspective on the story.

Death, fear, bullying, blood, starvation. Implications of sexual situations but nothing on the page. For readers ages 14 to adult.

Aarene Storms 
Teen Services Librarian
King County Library System  


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