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The Seventh Stone
by Nancy Freedman
Dutton, 1992, 372 pages

The Pacific War shakes the foundations of a strongly traditional Japanese family in this remarkable novel. The Sanogawa family becomes engulfed in tragedy after the only son Noboru dies in a kamikaze suicide attack made in an ohka, a piloted bomb propelled by three rockets and launched from underneath a "mother" plane. Momoko, Noboru's wife, struggles with the bonds of tradition, but she finds love again when she marries Takeo, Noboru's friend who was the only member of his ohka squadron who survived. They later divorce because of Momoko's not bearing a child, but they remain in love and continue to meet secretly on Wednesdays for many years.

Momoko bears Noboru's son Akio, who is born just before her spiteful mother-in-law notifies her of Noboru's death. Momoko and others consider that Akio must be possessed by an oni (demon), since he malevolently plots the demise of any person who crosses him. He becomes a megalomaniac as his economic and political power increase due to the stunning success of his businesses, but he utterly fails in his personal relations. Finally, the former ohka pilot Takeo stops him as he hijacks Akio's private plane with Akio inside, and the man who had faced death many years before plunges the plane into the sea near Okinawa where he was destined to die in the war.

Nancy Freedman, author of ten novels, took ten years to write The Seventh Stone, an intricate story covering four generations and a half-century up to 1989. She skillfully develops distinct personalities for each of the fifteen or so major characters, and she depicts the complex conflicts and strong influences between them. The book demonstrates that the effects and memories of the war extend many decades beyond its end.

Although Freedman expertly weaves numerous historical events and Japanese cultural practices into the narrative, she does not succeed in her depiction of ohka pilots. Late in the war in March 1945, Noboru applies and undergoes an examination to become a member of an ohka kamikaze unit, and the military immediately sends him to the front lines to wait to make an ohka attack. In reality, although most ohka pilots had relatively little flight training, even those pilots with the least experience had graduated already from reserve officer training programs or the naval training school before beginning several weeks of intensive training on how to fly the ohka [1]. Also, the military did not select someone for an ohka unit if he were an only son or married [2], both of which would have disqualified Noboru from joining. Also, the novel does not realistically represent the postwar attitude of the Japanese public toward the pilots in the special attack forces who engaged in suicide attacks. Takeo is described as "venerated" for his being a famed ohka fighter, and the pilots are said to have returned honor to a defeated country by their deaths in a cause already lost. The real ohka pilots who survived give a different story, such as the following one, "It might interest you to know, if I pointed out, that after the war all of us surviving Special Attack pilots were not only looked on askance or indifferently, but were also disparaged by being called 'Special Attack degenerates' and 'those ex-Special Attack fanatics'" [3].

The wartime details regarding the ohka and regular kamikaze pilots contain a number of historical inaccuracies. The author writes that the first Shinpu (or kamikaze) attack began on March 21, 1945, by the 201st Naval Air Group, composed of bombers with attached ohka weapons. When Noboru joined the 201st, he flew to Mabalacat in the Philippines to await orders to make an attack. In actuality, the first kamikaze attacks took place five months before in October 1944, but the first ohka attacks did occur in March 1945. Pilots in the renowned 721st Naval Air Group (also known as the Thunder Gods Corps), not the 201st, flew the ohka weapons. Also, the Allies effectively captured the Philippines in January 1945, so the Japanese military could not use airfields there after that time. The first and subsequent planes carrying ohka missiles did not sortie from Mabalacat but rather from Kyushu, the southernmost main island of Japan.

This novel has several plot similarities to Kerri Sakamoto's book, One Hundred Million Hearts. Both novels have two ohka pilots, one who switches places with the other at the last minute. One pilot dies, and the other survives. Both books deal extensively with the effects that these pilots' deaths had on the next generation. Although the two novels have some resemblances on the surface, they diverge in their portrayals of the ohka pilots who survived. The surviving pilot in One Hundred Million Hearts suffers silently from guilt and shame as a failed kamikaze who never completed his mission of death. In contrast, Takeo goes on to become a highly powerful official in the Ministry of Finance, and throughout his life he maintains pride in being an ohka pilot. Takeo, making his final flight with Akio to plunge into the Okinawan Sea, explains to him that becoming a Special Attacker meant looking past the war to "give us the courage and pride we needed for a surrender that would not defeat us" (p. 366).

Although The Seventh Stone contains some inaccuracies regarding ohka pilots, the novel has a fascinating plot and gives a thoughtful portrayal of the effects that the death of an ohka pilot had on his family, both at the time of his death and many years into the future.

Notes

1. Naito 1989, 88.

2. Hagoromo Society 1973, 22, 200.

3. Hagoromo Society 1973, 173.

Sources Cited

Hagoromo Society of Kamikaze Divine Thunderbolt Corps Survivors. 1973. The Cherry Blossom Squadrons: Born to Die. Edited and supplemented by Andrew Adams. Translated by Nobuo Asahi and the Japan Tech Co. Los Angeles: Ohara Publications.

Naito, Hatsuho. 1989. Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Stories. Translated by Mayumi Ishikawa. Tokyo: Kodansha International.