Critical Overview

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When first published in Japan in 1997, A Boy Called H quickly became a best-seller. Over two million copies were sold, and critics hailed the book as an outstanding example of literature about World War II, although there was also a feeling that the book was not absolutely reliable in its historical details. Most of these details were minor. For example, in an incident that takes place in the book in the summer of 1942, H’s sister sings a patriotic song that was not published until 1945.

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When the book was translated into English and published in the United States in 1999, the critical response was enthusiastic. For Steven I. Levine, in Library Journal, the book provided ‘‘an accessible, unforgettable, and intimate introduction to the effects of the war upon Japanese family life, friendships, school, and society.’’ Levine argued that the book belonged ‘‘with a handful of classics about children in wartime.’’

Hazel Rochman, in Booklist, commenting on how World War II becomes increasingly real for H, noted that ‘‘The writing is quiet, almost detached at times, until you come to realize that the young boy is fighting emotional breakdown.’’

The reviewer for Publishers Weekly described the book as ‘‘refreshing in the honesty with which it faces some ugly realities in Japan before and during WWII.’’ The reviewer commented that one of the most shocking aspects of the novel was the way in which H, although he held many private doubts about the war, nonetheless in public was openly zealous about it and always supported the propaganda of the authorities.

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Essays and Criticism