Bridge Of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris
Kensington Publishing Corp., 2012
Reviewer: Sheri de Grom
Kristina McMorris is an extraordinary storyteller who transcends time with elegance in her latest novel, Bridge Of Scarlet Leaves. This World War II novel begins November, 1941, and includes the war years and an adjustment time afterwards.
The historical research Ms. McMorris weaves into Bridge Of Scarlet Leaves is reminiscent of James Michener’s novel Fires Of Spring.
The many layers of conflict throughout Bridge Of Scarlet Leaves are constructed to overlap each other. Ms. McMorris provides the reader deep internal conflicts of her characters—scar tissue is evident from their thoughts and feelings. But she doesn’t stop there. The conflicts extend outward involving significant others, family, community, our entire nation and eventually the world.
Every scene and sequel resonates with emotion.
TJ Kerns and his kid sister, Maddie, miss their mother, the mother Maddie remembers as a romantic. . . .pg.14[She’d adored roses and rainstorms and candlelight, in that order. She had declared chocolate an essential food for the heart, and poetry as replenishment for the soul.]. .
So begins the magical words Kristina McMorris dances across the pages of Bridge of Scarlet Leaves.
Maddie and TJ hold their father responsible for their mother’s death. Their father was driving intoxicated and killed the mother they both adored. Maddie expresses her grief by visiting her father once a week and playing her violin for him. Her heart broken; her father won’t talk, no matter how hard she tries to engage him in conversation. . . .pg.59[Once again she stood before him, alone and unseen. She’d become the beige walls, the tiled floor. An insignificant fixture he passed in the hall.]. . .
Maddie, a talented violinist, is promised a sponsorship to Julliard by a prominent family. Maddie isn’t sure why they are being so generous. She hopes it isn’t an enticement to marry their son Donnie, now in the Navy.
TJ struggles with his boiling rage at his father and fading prospects of a starting rotation with the university baseball team. He can’t seem to get his pitch right, and he was the superstar before the accident that killed his mother. Now, his grades have slipped so much he’ll be benched if they don’t improve.
Lane Moritomo is the son of Japanese immigrant parents and TJ’s best friend. Lane’s parents, according to their cultural tradition, have arranged a marriage for Lane. It doesn’t matter that Lane has fallen in love with Maddie. . . . pg.24[“She comes from noble lineage,” his father explained. “The matchmaker has ruled out all the usual imperfections—tuberculosis, barrenness, and such. Her family’s financial troubles make your pairing a sensible one. Her younger sister has found a match as well, so you must marry first. The family will sail over from Tokyo in time for the new year.”]. . .
Lane has to take a stand. He can’t let this happen. . . . pg. 25[Before he could reconsider, he tossed out his protest. “I can’t. I’m in love with somebody else.” Tension of a new level swept through the room, conquering every inch of space. No one moved. No one spoke.]. . .
TJ and Lane’s parents are adamant about Maddie not marrying Lane but Maddie and Lane marry the night before Pearl Harbor. Lane tries to make the ceremony as memorable for Maddie as possible. He knows it isn’t the wedding girls fantasize about, but nothing seemed real these days. Of one thing he and Maddie know: they love each other and want to spend their lives together.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Maddie and Lane’s world changes forever. They have to return home. . . .pg.80[She scanned the coach without moving her head. Her neck had become an over-tightened bow. Her wide-brimmed, tan-colored hat served as an accessory of concealment. Suspicious glares, however, targeted the suited man beside her: Lane, who hadn’t spoken a word since leaving the hotel. Lane, who could always be counted on for a smile. A guy who could conjure solutions like Aces from a magician’s sleeve.]. . .
Once home, they discover they can’t get a cab together or anything to eat in a public place. No one will allow Lane into their establishment. He’s an outcast. . . .pg.82[Seven days, she told herself as they rumbled down streets that now felt foreign. In seven days God had created the Earth. In a single day mankind had turned it upside down.]
Maddie returns home to find a brother who won’t speak to her because she’s married Lane. Lane returns home to find his family being interrogated by the FBI, his home being ransacked and his father imprisoned for no known cause. . . .pg. 91[Lane despised the old adage. It can’t be helped. No culture needed to be so damn passive.]
Maddie is not prepared for the way TJ reacts to the news that she and Lane are married. She knew he wouldn’t be happy but she hadn’t expected the explosion that follows. Lane and TJ had been blood brothers since the age of eight and had agreed their pact held no expiration date and nothing could divide them. . . . But now, pg.97[In an instant, TJ swung around and grabbed him by the shirt, cinched it up under Lane’s chin. “I’m not listening to anything from you! I ought to kill you, you piece of shit!”]. . .
The days become darker and Maddie is shunned because she’s married Lane. Her sponsorship to Juilliard is withdrawn. Donnie was killed by the Japanese and Maddie has married a Jap.
A curfew for all Japanese descendants, plus their cut telephone lines, and the inability for them to buy food and other necessities make life more and more difficult. Their assets are frozen and Lane, in an attempt to make Maddie’s life easier, gives her drawn-up divorce papers to sign.
Maddie wants to talk with Lane, but she can’t. She continues to work at her father’s tailoring shop and tries to find out information about Lane.
Filled with dread, she learns he is possibly being moved to an internment camp with his mother and younger sister, Emma.
TJ joins the Army—Maddie’s world as she’s known it is gone.
There is no turning back. Emotions churned. Maddie takes charge of her situation. She’s lost everyone she’s ever loved and she isn’t going to allow Lane to disappear from her life. She races, demands and swerves around American soldiers herding other Americans of Japanese descent onto busses that will take them to the camps. The Caucasians are armed and it is a scene of “us against them”. Tensions escalate. Maddie’s been told Lane is in one of the buses, but which one?
Children who had been adopted from Japan into loving American homes are separated from their parents. . . . pg. 164[“But I don’t want to go,” the girl shrieked, face stained red. “Mommy, I want to stay with you!” Tears streamed from the slanted eyes that cursed the child, dripping trails down the puffy sleeves of her lilac dress. Two nuns pried her fingers from the Caucasian woman’s arms and guided the youngster toward the bus.
[“Everything will be fine, pumpkin,” the mother choked out against a sob. “Mommy and Daddy will come see you soon.” A suited man beside her added, “You be a good girl, now.” His Anglo features contorted in despair as he limply waved.]
This novel takes on a life of its own as the story of the internment camp and Maddie’s life there unfolds. The relationship between Maddie and Lane’s mother plus his younger sister, Emma, remain complex. Lane decides to join the U.S. Army—how much can Maddie endure? A strong secondary story runs throughout the novel as Maddie’s brother and best friend develop a romance that leaves the reader hanging almost to the final page.
The characters and their emotions plus actions taken are full of strength and love. They face the impossible, day in and day out. Lane’s mother behaves as though she wants to hide from the world—when in fact she aches to reach out and touch her children with love and compassion, knowing she can’t make them whole. The absence of her imprisoned husband has to haunt her every waking moment—doesn’t it? She has secrets of her own.
TJ said he’d never drink because of what his father did to his mother. Why does he go to an empty beach to drink alone? TJ believes he’s never done anything right in his life so why should it be any different now?
Finally, I can’t forget the puppy Lane found to give his little sister, Emma, while they are at the internment camp. Emma acts out and the puppy sounds like a good idea to Lane. The puppy and Emma fall in love at first sight but it doesn’t solve the problem of Emma acting out.
One night, the family is in real danger from a gang at the camp and needs to be moved to the Administrator’s Office. During the process, the puppy can’t keep up and I found myself yelling at the book, ‘Pick up the puppy, come on. Pick him up.’ If you’ve read some of my other reviews, you know I’m a dog lover.
Later, Emma escaped through the door to go look for her puppy . . . in the dark of night . . . into that place where a war is raging against the very people whose skin is the same color as hers.
Kristina McMorris’ novel, Bridge Of Scarlet Leaves is a must read. I highly recommend it for individuals and book clubs alike.