Falling Blossom by Peter Pagnamenta & Momoko Williams

An absorbing true story of lovers torn apart by war and circumstance
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The Independent Culture

Britain and Japan were firm allies, and Japan's victories were hailed in the British press. In Tokyo, Hart-Synnot was permitted to use the strait-laced Kaikosha, a club for Japanese officers, and it was there he met Masa Suzuki, an employee. Captain Hart-Synnot fell for Masa, but she was never, properly speaking, a "temporary wife" of the kind found by Westerners in the capital's entertainment establishments. Rather, she was a self-supporting young woman who reciprocated Hart-Synnot's feelings, though the fact she was already divorced set her at a disadvantage in her own society.

They were together for 17 years, and had two sons. But the difficulty was Hart-Synnot's career. His proximity to Masa depended on his postings, and the British Army contrived to take him further from her. He did not want to resign his commission until he had achieved high rank, and the pension that went with it. He was sent to Hong Kong, then Burma, then transferred home.

He implored Masa to join him in England, but because she had an ageing mother to look after, and wanted their children schooled in Japan, she wouldn't. Then in May 1918, Brigadier-General Hart-Synnot was horribly wounded on the Western Front, losing both legs. Convalescing, he met and decided to marry a nurse, Violet Drower, despite having promised Masa he would return to Japan and marry her. On the face of it, the "English gentleman" behaved like an utter cad. Yet soon they began writing to each other again.

Falling Blossom is much more than a sad romance made all the more pitiable by the death of their son Kiyoshi in a Soviet POW camp in 1945. Drawing on 800 letters written by Hart-Synnot over 37 years, it furnishes a finely researched backdrop of the events and prejudices which crushed their lives. For those of us who have Japanese partners today, the authors provide a stark reminder that time and circumstance used not to be so accommodating.

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