Children of the Rubble: a review of Alexia Montibon-Larsson's "Forged In Fire"

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My father was born in England right at the start of the Second World War. His first memories were of the bombed homes in Birmingham, where he used to play with other neighbourhood children after the fires had been put out. Some of his older brothers were evacuated during the war to foster homes in the countryside, others were of age to join the army. Then, after the war, life for working class families like his own was one of deprivation: clothes and shoes came from the local church (if they happened to be the wrong size, you just lived with it); food rationing dragged on for years (my father ate chocolate for the first time when he was 18); and if you wanted to work, there was a place for you in a factory or behind a pub's counter – going to university was unthinkable.

This is probably why stories about World War II have always fascinated me – the world was so different back then. I sometimes wonder what it must have been like to live through it. What a nice surprise then to find Alexia Montibon-Larsson's "Forged in Fire: Stories of Wartime Japan" on Wattpad. "Forged in Fire" is the memoir of Alexia's mother, recited to her just before she passed away in 2014 at the age of 83.

This is the story of Tomoko, raised alongside two brothers by a strict aunt and a loving grandmother, moulded by the events that swept through her country when she was 10 years old. Tomoko saw the old ways die, experienced hunger we can only imagine, and by fateful coincidence happened to be close to some pivotal moments in Japan's history. Later, she moved to America, became known as Rita and raised a loving family.

Anybody familiar with the War's history knows that the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan heralded the war's climactic end. In our age of excessive images and sounds it's easy to forget that people didn't have easy access to information back then, especially while caught in the war. It was fascinating to me to read of the many Japanese like Tomoko who only heard about the bombs but couldn't quite understand what they meant until afterwards. How tragic, also, to never hear again from family members who lived in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – simply having to accept that they'd been one of the many thousands wiped away.

"Forged in Fire" is a quick read – a love poem from a daughter to a mother. I read it slowly because I didn't want it to end – I wanted to look into Tomoko's world as long as possible, see more of Japan. I enjoyed Alexia's crisp style and thought she perfectly captured her mother's story. "Forged in Fire" is a testament to the importance of all of us sharing our experiences, of learning from the past. I look now at the young children crossing the Mediterranean – the refugees escaping Syria's war – and I wonder how many of them are like little Tomoko: destined to grow up and share with the world their very painful and human experiences.


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