Last Night with Tokyo Rose by Alexa Kang (Nisei War Series; book 1)

Book Blurb:

Like any other American man, Tom Sakai wants nothing but a good life and a decent job. But in 1941, his country is not a friendly place for a Nisei. Being a son of Japanese immigrants, he’s never American enough. As Japan and the United States edge to the brink of war, the truth is all too clear. America has no place for someone like him. In search of his place in the world, he leaves his hometown of Seattle and sets out to sea.

In Manila, he meets Fumiko, a Nisei from Los Angeles with a heartbreaking past who captures his heart. His soulmate who tread the same path of prejudice he walked at home. Together, they begin a new life in this burgeoning city under American colonial rule where they are no longer shunned.

The Pearl Harbor attack destroys their dreams. Their dual identity now forces them to take a side. Their survival hinges on whether they stand with the land of the rising sun or the land of the free.

Stranded in occupied territory, Tom must decide where his loyalty lies. Should he swear his allegiance to Imperial Japan, the instigator of war and violence? Or America, the country that deserted him when the world’s darkest hour begins?

What happens if his choice diverges from his one true love?

I received this book from the author for free via BookSirens. This is a voluntary review, therefore, all comments and opinions are entirely my own.

Rayleigh’s Review:

A man is faced with being true to the country he loves, or siding with the country of his heritage because of his family and friends during one of the most brutal wars in history. Stuck literally between America and Japan, Tom Sakai learns of the dangers that romance can cause in determining one’s allegiance.

Last Night with Tokyo Rose looks like everything I love in historical fiction. The cover is stunning, the blurb is so interesting, and the topic is WWII–and not only that, but it’s also a blend of Japanese and American culture during WWII, so it’s not a one-sided story! This book almost literally has my name written all over it, however, I had a very hard time finishing it.

When I read the blurb, I assumed that the book would begin with Tom navigating the war. Maybe a little backstory for the setup, but I genuinely thought this book would be majorly set during WWII. So, I was both surprised and confused when, what I thought was an introduction of Tom’s childhood, just kept going. The entire first half of the book (and this book is over 400 pages long) has nothing to do with the war, and everything to do with Tom’s childhood in America as a Nisei. Which is great, if that’s what you’re expecting! But, to me, it felt like the longest intro I’ve ever read and the part about Tom during WWII was severely too short. And though Tom’s life was very interesting and well-written, I realized around a quarter into the book that this would be a very slow-paced, drama rather than the faster-paced war book that I was expecting.

The way the book is written, flip-flopping between past and present Tom, makes the book appear even slower than the content did. Each chapter opens with a short, melancholy scene of present, involved-in-the-war-Tom walking around his apartment, drinking some form of alcohol, and contemplating his life. His thought process then leads to a memory, which throws us back to his childhood, teen years, or young adulthood leading up to the war. So, with nearly every chapter following this pattern of a serious and gloomy opening of present-Tom and then reminiscing on past Tom, there’s a constant sense of suspense for the reader to want to hurry up and get to the events happening to present-Tom, but there is a huge ocean of memories that have to be navigated first so it feels like you’ll never actually get there. And once I finally did catch up to present-Tom, I checked my reading percentage on my kindle, and I was over 70% finished with the book! That’s over 300 pages of this 436-page book (according to Amazon)! So, because the suspense in the buildup to get to present-Tom was so heavy throughout the novel (that suspense is the only thing that pushed me to finish the book), it made the ending, when we finally get there, not feel worth it. I wasn’t disappointed in the ending exactly, as far as Tom’s decisions and how it ended, but I definitely walked away asking, “Is that it? That’s how we’re leaving it?”.

The only reason I gave Last Night with Tokyo Rose 3 stars instead of 1 or 2 is because the amount of research that went into this book completely blew me away. This book is so informative on both sides of the culture conflicts of WWII and the social delimmas of the Nisei (a term I had never heard before this book). The author also does a fantastic job of creating believable scenarios of how the Nisei were treated in America on the brink of WWII and during the war. Her writing style is compelling and emotional as well, so even though Tom’s story was slower than I would have liked, it did not lack the promise of emotional conflict and moral delimmas.

Overall, I don’t recommend Last Night with Tokyo Rose to just any fans of historical fiction, but I think that very specifically, fans of thought-provoking dramas would enjoy this book more than I did.

Content Warning: Racism & injustice scenarios. Some romance, though nothing sexually explicit (only brief mentions of kissing). No graphic gore descriptions.

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