The author brings a fresh approach to fictionalizing herself as a teenage narrator just out of middle school, turning the vaunted Japanese literary tradition of the "I-novel" back on itself. The overarching theme of the work is the question of Emperor Hirohito's war responsibility?an issue that has largely stood as the proverbial elephant in the room of intellectual debates on World War II. In what might be termed a feat of acrobatic proficiency, the author bridges the gap between personal autobiography and a forbidden discussion of the emperor system vis-à-vis Japanese history and national polity.
At her mother Kyo's wish, protagonist Mari Akasaka graduates from middle school in Japan and moves to Maine in the United States to attend a private high school. The year is 1980 and, having been born shortly after the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, Mari turns 16 in November. Her teacher gives her a long-term assignment for the year as a condition of academic advancement: in April, she must participate in a debate on the topic of Emperor Hirohito's war responsibility in front of the entire student body.
Living at a far remove from any other Japanese, she finds that phone calls to her mother in Tokyo are effectively her only lifeline. But the international telephone circuits get crossed, and she connects instead to her 45-year-old divorced and remarried self, Mari Akasaka the author. To help the overwhelmed Mari, the older Akasaka pretends to be her mother Kyo. In the climactic scene of the debate, with the whole school watching, Mari transforms herself into Emperor Hirohito appearing before the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal . . .
The novelist Natsuki Ikezawa wrote, "When I finished reading, I realized that the book had completely altered the picture I had of Japan's postwar history, and of the country's national consciousness. And I sat marveling at an achievement that I'd never quite known was possible in fiction." The novelist Seiko Ito wrote, "This is world literature. It begs to be translated immediately into as many languages as possible." As these two reviewers among many in the same vein suggest, the work represents a new pinnacle of postwar literature, a true masterpiece.