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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The Height of Fearlessness: A True Story of the Power of Perspective by Mia Iwama Hastings and Mimi Iwama recounts the tale of a nine-year-old girl, Mimi Iwama, at the end of the Second World War, as she and her beloved mother come to terms with life after the devastation of the conflict. Mimi and her mother move from their house in Kumamoto, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, to a special house high on the nearby mountain of Hanaokayama, known as the flower mountain for its covering of cherry blossom flowers every spring. There, in the beauty and solitude of the forest and nature, they attempt to recover from the devastating physical and emotional trauma of war. Mimi is malnourished and ill from the war, not to mention the emotional trauma of the horrific scenes of death and destruction she was forced to witness as their city was bombarded by Allied bombers. Here, communing with nature and revisiting the power of their ancestors, Mimi begins to recover her equilibrium as her mother imparts a vitally important message on life and a perspective that will serve the young girl well as she grows and matures into a vital, independent, and adventurous young woman.
Some books just speak to your soul and your heart. The Height of Fearlessness: A True Story of the Power of Perspective by Mia Iwama Hastings and Mimi Iwama is just one of those books. It certainly helps that much of the teaching Mimi’s mother imparted to her aligned perfectly with my own views of the Universe and the power of the mind and thought. But what made this particular story stand out above the rest was Mia Iwama Hastings's and Mimi Iwama’s powerful and poetic prose. As a reader, I was transported to post-war Japan and was able to experience the sheer confusion and angst of a young girl in a defeated country; a country that still was able to swear allegiance to an Emperor who had taken them on such a devastating journey. The poetic style of the authors is truly beautiful and I reveled in the beauty and serenity of the flower mountain, Hanaokayama. Equally important from a reader’s perspective was the insight the story gave me into the Japanese culture and their frame of mind. Like Mimi, I truly loved the time she spent in the forests of Hanaokayama and the massive life lessons her mother shared with her. As an opportunity to understand and develop empathy for others, this read was exceptional and as a tribute to the authors’ mother and grandmother, it was a true celebration of a woman’s life. I have little doubt Oka-chan is looking down from her exalted place in the heavens, with Mimi’s father, and smiling broadly at her daughter and granddaughter. This is definitely one of the most moving and powerful books I have read in a long time and I can highly recommend it.