It’s been twenty years since the bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The big ryū disappeared soon after the war. Ten year old Kohei is convinced that if he can find them, he’ll be able to make Ojiisan, his grandfather, smile again.
Kohei lives with Ojiisan, who spends his time drinking and being angry, and his Mama, whose subscribes to what is referred to as ‘shikata ga nai’, meaning “there’s nothing to be done – move on, carry on, and don’t brood over things that can’t be helped.” This is a really polite way of saying she doesn’t actually ever deal with anything.
Kohei’s father died when he was three years old. Although I didn’t get to meet him, his words resonated with me.
‘Do not quit. You must keep trying to make things better, Kohei, because there are always good things you can do.’
While the blurb piqued my interest in this family, I’ll be honest: I was mostly here for the dragons. The little ryū were absolutely adorable.
I knew I’d love Yuharu, Kohei’s little ryū, as soon as I discovered she was fluent in sarcasm, but I loved all of the ryū I met. They have unique personalities and quirks, and they talk! I definitely need one to adopt me.
Even though I wanted to dragon-nap Yuharu, the standout character for me was Isolde, Kohei’s new neighbour. She’s yearning to find a place where she can feel like she belongs. She’s capable of standing up for herself when she needs to and she has a heart of gold. She’s also wise beyond her years.
‘Because talking helps. Things always seem simpler when you say them out loud. And eventually, you stop talking, and you realise that if your sentence can end, so can your troubles.’
While the dragons were everything I’d hoped they’d be, at its heart this book is about the legacy of war. Although the children in this book haven’t personally experienced war, their parents and grandparents have.
The lasting impact of this trauma is clearly shown by what the characters talk about and what they don’t, what emotions are expressed and which remain hidden. Despite the difficulty of many of the issues that arise for the characters, there is also hope.
Things that hurt were able to heal.
Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
Kohei Fujiwara has never seen a giant dragon in real life. The big ryū all disappeared from Japan after World War II, and twenty years later, they’ve become the stuff of legend. Their smaller cousins, who can fit in your palm, are all that remain. And Kohei loves his ryū, Yuharu, but he has a memory of the big ryū. He knows that’s impossible. In his mind, he can see his grandpa – Ojiisan – gazing up at the big ryū with what looks like total and absolute wonder. When Kohei was little, he dreamed he’d go on a grand quest to bring the big ryū back, to get Ojiisan to smile again.
But now, Ojiisan is really, really sick. And Kohei is running out of time.
Kohei needs to find the big ryū now, before it’s too late. With the help of Isolde, his new half-Jewish, half-Japanese neighbour, and Isolde’s Yiddish-speaking dragon, Cheshire, he thinks he can do it. Maybe.
From debut author Emi Watanabe Cohen comes a story of magic, a mysterious family legacy and the lengths to which we’ll go to protect the people we love.