Naoko Abe pens portrait of resistance for Chatto & Windus

Naoko Abe pens portrait of resistance for Chatto & Windus

Chatto & Windus will publish The Martyr and the Red Kimono, the first book to be written in English by Japanese author and journalist Naoko Abe.

Clara Farmer and Charlotte Humphery secured world English rights in a deal struck with Patrick Walsh at PEW Literary, with publication slated for autumn 2022. 

The Martyr and the Red Kimono will tell the true story of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a young Franciscan monk who moved from Poland to Nagasaki in the 1930s to establish a monastery and minister to the Kakure Kirishitan, Japan’s “hidden Christians”, who had emerged from hiding after centuries of persecution. Several thousand of these families then constructed Asia’s largest cathedral in Nagasaki, settling in the neighbourhood. When the atom bomb exploded over the Nagasaski cathedral in 1945, the new community was destroyed.

Kolbe returned to Europe in the late 1930s where, aided by 800 fellow monks, he ran Poland’s largest newspaper and publishing operation and gave sanctuary to refugees fleeing the Nazi advance. Arrested by the Nazis, Kolbe died in Auschwitz in 1941, having surrendered his life to save another prisoner. When canonised in 1982, Kolbe was described by the Pope as “the patron saint of our troubled century”.

Humphery commented: "Naoko Abe has a wonderfully perceptive eye for historical characters, unfamiliar stories and surprising connections. Her previous book won Japan’s leading non-fiction award, the Nihon Essay Prize, and sold widely in translation. Now, Naoko shows us the Second World War and the history of modern Japan through the prism of three remarkable and compassionate men. The Martyr and the Red Kimono is a deeply moving portrait of resistance with important lessons for readers everywhere."

Abe will also explore the "unexpected influence" that Kolbe had on the non-violence movement in Japan after the Second World War, which particularly shaped the lives of two Japanese men: a 91-year-old Franciscan monk, Tomei Ozaki, who as a teenager survived the Nagasaki atomic bomb in 1945; and an 89-year-old cherry tree expert Masatoshi Asari, from the northern island of Hokkaido.

Abe, a political journalist working for the Mainichi newspaper group in Tokyo, now based in London, said: “I am delighted that Chatto & Windus will publish my new book, The Martyr and the Red Kimono. I worked with their wonderful team on my previous book, 'Cherry' Ingram, The Englishman Who Saved Japan’s Blossoms, which I rewrote and translated from its Japanese original and published with Chatto in March 2019. The editor, Charlotte Humphery, as well as director Clara Farmer and publicity manager Mia Quibell-Smith, were extremely caring, encouraging and thorough. It is a great privilege to work with them again."