Last night I had the rare pleasure of finding myself surrounded by eager readers who love to talk about books and their lives; over twenty book club members at the legendary Scorpio Book Shop in its new post-quake Riccarton home. Gill and Jo welcomed me, along with the shop dogs and many smiling faces. It was a wonderful way to share in the unfolding story of The Lost Pilot, a book I have written about my relationship to my father, his war in the Royal Navy 1939-45, and his encounter with young Japanese kamikaze pilots in the latter months of that conflict.
The picture above – showing how close he came that April day to death – spurred me to write the book and go to Japan in April 2011 in search of the families of the Japanese aircrew who died that day. This was our subject for the gathering last night – how history is alive in us all, whether we know it or not – and a great time of sharing and ensued.
I can’t of course name those who were there and exactly what was shared, as I don’t have permission to reveal their thoughts online. Let’s just say, we entered again into the recesses of the human heart and told each other a little more about how our parents, especially, had affected our lives and our view of the world.
It was an emotional journey for me to undertake the writing of The Lost Pilot and it was a privilege to hear how many in the group had been affected, not just by my story, but that of the tragic waste of lives involved in the drafting of so many young men to defend Japan in a doomed tactic, now known to the world as “kamikaze” – taken to mean, suicide bombers.
These young men (aged 17-25) were in most cases not volunteers – and not suicidal at all. They were human sacrifices in a lost cause. As we stand on the brink of another disastrous escalation of the brutal war in Syria, with innocent civilians, children, babies, mothers, old men and women – along with the young male fighters – now subject to terrifying chemical weapon attacks, what have we learned?
We asked ourselves that question last night, and there was no easy answer. Yet this very week, I had a letter from one the families I visited in Japan, thanking me for coming, speaking of their gratitude and their wonder that “like a dream”, this foreigner came from New Zealand to seek them out, to join them in their mourning for a lost brother and uncle.
There were even letters from local school children, when their teacher had been shown a copy of my book by the granddaughter, and had used it in one of her Peace Studies classes. Here are children protected, here are families reaching out – we can all do that, starting next door, here in our street. World peace: what is it? Maybe it begins with trying to understand the neighbour and the stranger.
So thank you Scorpio and all the wonderful people I met last night. It was a privilege to hear some responses to what I was attempting to say in the book. Writers have to work alone in the dark, but once the book is out in the light, we want to know how it is being received – and I don’t mean reviewers only. The personal responses, the letters and emails that come, if a book makes a mark on a reader, are deeply satisfying – even the ones that tell you they don’t like something.
I write to share stories and one of the powers and the purpose of storytelling is to provoke a story in return, in you.