Yokohama, a quiet fishing village when Commodore Matthew Perry arrived with his gunboat diplomacy in the mid-1800s, was quickly transformed into a bustling port for international trade. The change brought affluent foreigners to the city but also mobilized Japanese nationalist hostilities. It was in this setting that Ron and Martin Baenninger's Canadian mother and Swiss father met in 1933. Relying on Ron's early memories, their mother's diary, and the acute memory of their father, who lived to be over one hundred, the Baenningers recount the initial years of their parents' marriage and provide glimpses into relations between Japan and the West from the turn of the century to the onset of the Second World War. In their earliest years together the young couple enjoyed a rich social life, travelling freely between Canada, Switzerland, and Japan, although aware of the political turmoil slowing unfolding around them. The outbreak of the war between Japan and the United States and allied powers brought their privileged lifestyle to an end. In August 1942 they escaped internment with their young son aboard the Kamakura Maru - one of the many exchange ships assigned to bring foreign nationals home and the last evacuation vessel from Japan - and negotiated their way through war-torn areas to reach Canada four months later. In the Eye of the Wind - both a deeply personal account of one family and a unique perspective on the politically turbulent atmosphere of pre-war Japan - will interest anyone seeking to learn more about a tumultuous period in an extraordinary place.
Ron Baenninger is a retired professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia. He lives in St Joseph, Minnesota. Martin Baenninger is a retired international business executive. He lives in Montreal.