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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Girl With the White Flag (The)
by Tomiko Higa
Age Range: 12+
The Girl With the White Flag
Translated from Japanese by Dorothy Britton
Kondansha International (2003) PB ISBN: 4 7700 2931 7
First published in Japan as Shirohata no shoujo, Kondansha, Tokyo, 1989
The Girl With the White Flag is narrated by the author and spans her life from age 5-7 years old, from before the Second World War and life with her family on the island of Okinawa, Japan. When war comes Tomiko’s father disappears while delivering food to Japanese soldiers. The remaining four children (Tomiko’s mother is dead and her other siblings have left home) aged from 17-6 become refugees.
While seeking refuge, Tomiko’s brother Nini dies as a result of a stray bullet, then she becomes separated from her two sisters in the confusion of the US invasion Forces landing on Okinawa. Searching desperately for her sisters, fleeing from encroaching enemy forces, she survives by eating plants and raw vegetable when she can find them and taking scraps of food from the knapsacks of dead Japanese soldiers. There is no safe place to hide, even Japanese soldiers weren’t safe, in fact she is almost killed by one. Tomiko risks death at every turn as the bullets whistle past her, but somehow she finds the strength and courage to survive on her own.
The Girl With the White Flag came into being because of a black-and-white photograph of a young girl barefoot girl in tattered clothes waving a piece of white cloth tied to a crooked stick. The photograph had been taken by John Hendrickson, a young American army signal corps photographer on 25th June 1945. In order to dispel the rumour that Tomiko had been used by the surrendering Japanese troops, she decided to set the record straight and tell her own remarkable story.
Harrowing and brutal at times, this is an inspiring, unforgettable true story vividly portraying the unintended civilian casualties of war. The power of the story is its rawness, its simplicity and bold honesty in recounting things that really happened and it will surely move children and adults alike.