Star Sand by Roger Pulvers (General Fiction, Historical)
In 1941, a teen-aged Japanese-American girl from California travels to Japan with her father. When he joins the Japanese war effort, she moves to a small village on a remote Japanese island to live with her aunt. By April of 1945, when the majority of this story takes place, the aunt has died and the girl, now seventeen, is living alone. By chance, she discovers an oceanside cave occupied by two deserters from the war, one American and one Japanese. They cannot understand each other’s language, but they both wish to co-exist in peace. The girl, Hiromi, speaks both English and Japanese and becomes their interpreter and benefactor, risking her life to bring them food and medicine. Then, one day, a wounded Japanese soldier joins them in the cave. He considers all three to be enemies of Japan and threatens their safety and survival.
The story then fast-forwards to the report of a 1958 American Marine Corps Survey Team that discovered the cave and its contents, which include Hiromi’s diary and the skeletal remains of three people. Fast-forward again to 2011, when a college student working on a research paper questions the validity of the diary and the identities of those who died in the cave. She goes on to solve the mystery in short order.
This book had great promise, but the conclusion was a disappointment. The story of Hiromi and the two deserters provided a unique perspective on World War II, showing everyday people who just wanted to live their lives and do the right thing. However, the final twenty percent of the book felt as though the author had tired of the whole thing and decided to wrap it up as quickly and easily as possible. He introduces a student we’ve never seen before and don’t get to know at all, who gives a quick narration of how she neatly determines who actually died in the cave. What could have been an intriguing bit of sleuthing with something extra thrown in — a startling revelation or heart-wrenching detail — becomes a question answered with little time for the reader to speculate about what might have happened.
I at least wanted some significance for the hundreds of little milk bottles Hiromi filled with star sand on the beach in 1945. I was pretty sure each little milk bottle of sparkling star-shaped fossils was meant to commemorate an innocent Japanese child who became a victim of the war. Instead, filling the little bottles collected by a school teacher and given to Hiromi apparently had no meaning, except to provide a reason for her to visit the beach and find the cave. I wanted more.
Grandma gives Star Sand three stars.