The Martyr and the Red Kimono

Published on 18th April, 2024

The remarkable true story of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and the two men in war-torn Japan whose lives he changed forever.

On the 14th of August 1941, a Polish priest named Maximilian Maria Kolbe was murdered in Auschwitz.

Kolbe’s life had been remarkable. Fiercely intelligent and driven, he founded a movement of Catholicism and spent several years in Nagasaki, ministering to the ‘hidden Christians’ who had emerged after centuries of oppression. A Polish nationalist as well as a priest, he gave sanctuary to fleeing refugees and ran Poland’s largest publishing operation, drawing the wrath of the Nazis. His death was no less remarkable: he volunteered to die, saving the life of a fellow prisoner.

It was an act that profoundly transformed the lives of two Japanese men. Tomei Ozaki was just seventeen when the US dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, destroying his home and his family. Masatoshi Asari worked on a farm in Hokkaido during the war and was haunted by the inhumane treatment of prisoners in a nearby camp. Forged in the crucible of an unforgiving war, both men drew inspiration from Kolbe’s sacrifice, dedicating their lives to humanity and justice. Ozaki followed in his footsteps and became a friar. Asari created cherry trees as peace offerings.

In The Martyr and the Red Kimono, award-winning author Naoko Abe weaves together a deeply moving and inspirational true story of resistance, sacrifice, guilt and atonement.

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‘…succeeds better than any book I know in capturing this mysterious affinity (between Auschwitz and the Nagasaki atomic bombing)’ The book ‘leaves behind it a moving glow of human connectedness…’

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‘In this beautiful chronicle stretching across a whole century and between continents, Naoko Abe reminds us of how human interconnections and inspirations help us rise above the terrors and divisions of war.’ Bill Emmott, writer and chairman of the Japan Society of the UK

‘One of the most moving true stories I have ever read, touching on all human emotions, strengths and weaknesses. Its mixture of happiness and sorrow, hope and horror played havoc with my spirits and brought many a tear to my eyes. I am amazed at the depth and geography of Naoko Abe’s research and travels in piecing together such a multitude of stories. Throughout, the cherries keep the main story moving. Despite the sadness and the darkness, love and belief prevail.’ Roy Lancaster, CBE, former presenter of BBC TV’s ‘Gardeners’ World’ and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’.

The Martyr and the Red Kimono is a rich and inventive biography of three men who never met but who shared a deep dedication to the betterment of humanity. In chronicling the lives of Father Maximilian Kolbe, murdered at Auschwitz, Tomei Ozaki, witness to the bombing of Nagasaki, and Masatoshi Asari, who sent Japanese peace symbols around the globe, Naoko Abe not only honours three inspirational figures but provides a compelling and unexpectedly positive account of a century of spiritual, cultural and political links between East and West. Michael Arditti

‘Naoko Abe reminds us that despite humanity’s brutality, hope endures in the simplest of messages: stop killing, renounce war and never forget love. ‘ Lucy Moore, author of In Search of Us

‘Vivid, absorbing, and compelling’. Catherine Coldstream, author of Cloistered: My Years as a Nun

‘a rich and inventive biography ..a compelling and unexpectedly positive account of a century of spiritual, cultural and political links between East and West.’ Michael Arditti

‘Ultimately, the winning charm of Abe’s book … is the epic scale of its historical lens, which draws so much of its power from human subjects that lived through, and were immersed in, the full panoply of change our all-too fragile world underwent through the 20th century. Figures like Ozaki and Asari – from humble roots to great ambitions – feel like indomitable fighters pushing against the very fabric of history’s grand narratives of war and peace; striving ever onward with goals which are both deeply personal and also tied up with the very idea of humanity.’ Laurence Green, The Japan Society Review

‘Her virtues as a stylist shine... her tone balances impartiality and vividness’. Rupert Cabbell-Manners, The Telegraph

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