The Secret of the Blue Glass

Pushkin Children’s Books exist to bring tales from different languages and cultures to readers of English, and ‘open the door to the wide, colourful world these stories offer’. This is a first-time English translation of a book written in 1959 but set in 1940s Japan: ironically, a time when the country was turning inwards to an ultra-nationalist, monochromatic view of world affairs.

It is about two sets of families who don’t quite fit into the then war-minded society; the Moriyamas, because the father is a well-educated scholar and suspected ‘liberalist’; and the Ashes, because they are only inches tall. As ‘Little People’, they have always trusted the Moriyama family to shield them from prying eyes and sustain them with milk served in the blue glass of the title. But the Second World War arrives and threatens them both. How can the Moriyamas survive if the father is imprisoned, and the children evacuated? How can the Ashes survive without their insulation from the outside world?

The solutions offered are intriguing, and unexpected. The book is not told from any particular character’s point of view and lets readers make up their own minds about events, so it’s a surprise when it becomes a testament to the power of adaptation, resilience, and opening oneself up to others. For example, rather than accept his parents’ word that life outside the house is perilous, the son of the Ashe family befriends a pigeon who agrees to let him fly on his back. There he discovers exactly what the book’s most recent publishers hoped to bring to readers: a wide and colourful world beyond his own experience. This is an unusual, thought-provoking, atmospheric and unpredictable tale, and one which fulfils Pushkin’s mission perfectly.