The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui and Ginny Tapley Takemori (translator)
|The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui and Ginny Tapley Takemori (translator)|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: While it is a little too easy to imagine a sprightlier, more engaging version of this book, it still has a brilliant character. Combining small-humanoid fantasy tropes with a very human, war-struck world makes for a most interesting read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 192||Date: July 2015|
|Publisher: Pushkin Children's Books|
One problem with being four inches or so tall, as any Borrower-type creature I'm sure will tell you, is getting around. There're the impracticalities of being so small, encounters with cats, and a whole lot more. But with this modern world things can happen – such as an English governess-type taking a married couple of Little People to Japan with her. There they have kids, and she leaves them with her favourite pupil – alongside the most necessary equipment, a small blue glass goblet, that helps the human bond with the Little People by using it to donate milk to them on a daily basis. We're now into the second generation of Japanese people looking after them, but something much more threatening, all-enveloping and worrying than a cat is around the corner – World War Two.
I guess there are many books about Little People living among humans – I referred to one series of them above, but I don't know of any that so successfully puts a large Human Activity in the way of their happiness so successfully. It's a lot more fraught than The Borrowers meet Rationing, as well – these are British Little People in a foreign land, and the brother of the kindly Yuri (a titular heroine in the book's original Japanese name) is firmly patriotic and militaristic, deeming her and their political prisoner father traitors. And if the milk supply is small that the small folk rely on, it can still dry up in times of war.
This book ticks all the right boxes for such an adventure – it doesn't tread over all the old ground about what if adults see the small characters, or how they and us can communicate and get over our mutual anxiety. We just have the acceptable circumstance of this family of five humans and their secret, perched initially on the top shelf of an old-fashioned reading room. There's something endearing about the goblet and Yuri's need to squeeze a little more milk out of life each day, and the whole War situation leads a great and individualistic edge to proceedings. It's a really characterful setting for the whole drama that plays out.
And what you also get is a pleasant touch of Japanese culture, too. Added to the fantasy at a late stage is a new character, what I find may be more commonly spelled in English an Amanojaku, although the author makes hers a lot more will-o'the-wispy, and kindly, than Japanese mythology normally has it. There's only a sense of a cross-over fantasy title, but there's enough of a culture clash that makes this book really interesting to genre fans, even if it tries to lay down new rules about its main situation in the last ten pages or so.
Beyond the spirit, and character, of having the two differently-sized species battling the same problem in their own way, I did find a little unfortunate dryness to events – it didn't have a final spark that would lend it five stars. I'm loathe to put that down to the translation, as the same adaptor has previously worked on the same publisher's The Whale That Fell in Love With a Submarine, which I also read recently and found to be a superb collection of tightly-written, vivid and evocative pieces about animals in wartime Japan, burning with quite a fierce moral and creating a book the likes of which you and your children won’t have read before. The same, due to its equally fierce, war-from-the-Japanese point of view, applies to the book at hand here. The Secret of the Blue Glass is well worth discovering.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
You can also enjoy much more western-flavoured takes on this tale, with the likes of The Thirteen Treasures by Michelle Harrison.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui and Ginny Tapley Takemori (translator) at Amazon.com.
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