The Height of Fearlessness

A True Story of the Power of Perspective

Non-Fiction - Memoir
164 Pages
Reviewed on 03/16/2020
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

The Height of Fearlessness: A True Story of the Power of Perspective by Mia Iwama Hastings and Mimi Iwama recounts the tale of a nine-year-old girl, Mimi Iwama, at the end of the Second World War, as she and her beloved mother come to terms with life after the devastation of the conflict. Mimi and her mother move from their house in Kumamoto, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, to a special house high on the nearby mountain of Hanaokayama, known as the flower mountain for its covering of cherry blossom flowers every spring. There, in the beauty and solitude of the forest and nature, they attempt to recover from the devastating physical and emotional trauma of war. Mimi is malnourished and ill from the war, not to mention the emotional trauma of the horrific scenes of death and destruction she was forced to witness as their city was bombarded by Allied bombers. Here, communing with nature and revisiting the power of their ancestors, Mimi begins to recover her equilibrium as her mother imparts a vitally important message on life and a perspective that will serve the young girl well as she grows and matures into a vital, independent, and adventurous young woman.

Some books just speak to your soul and your heart. The Height of Fearlessness: A True Story of the Power of Perspective by Mia Iwama Hastings and Mimi Iwama is just one of those books. It certainly helps that much of the teaching Mimi’s mother imparted to her aligned perfectly with my own views of the Universe and the power of the mind and thought. But what made this particular story stand out above the rest was Mia Iwama Hastings's and Mimi Iwama’s powerful and poetic prose. As a reader, I was transported to post-war Japan and was able to experience the sheer confusion and angst of a young girl in a defeated country; a country that still was able to swear allegiance to an Emperor who had taken them on such a devastating journey. The poetic style of the authors is truly beautiful and I reveled in the beauty and serenity of the flower mountain, Hanaokayama. Equally important from a reader’s perspective was the insight the story gave me into the Japanese culture and their frame of mind. Like Mimi, I truly loved the time she spent in the forests of Hanaokayama and the massive life lessons her mother shared with her. As an opportunity to understand and develop empathy for others, this read was exceptional and as a tribute to the authors’ mother and grandmother, it was a true celebration of a woman’s life. I have little doubt Oka-chan is looking down from her exalted place in the heavens, with Mimi’s father, and smiling broadly at her daughter and granddaughter. This is definitely one of the most moving and powerful books I have read in a long time and I can highly recommend it.

Joel R. Dennstedt

One recognition has become more than cliché, more than complimentary stereotype: Great Japanese art marries an intricate blend of depth and concise simplicity. Minimal, soft – often ethereal - brushstrokes, beautifully rendered convey endless levels of perception and understanding. This observation extends also to the specific art of Japanese writing. In an exquisitely fine example, The Height of Fearlessness by Mia Iwama Hastings demonstrates such mastery in a beautifully concise literary rendering of eternal teachings from the life-story told by Mimi Iwama. Mimi was nine years old after WWII, suffering from horrible traumas recently endured, and now taken by her mother to heal within the serenity of a simple and secluded mountain community.

The Height of Fearlessness is a minor gem radiating deep wisdom. Mia Iwama Hastings writes (or maybe Mimi Iwama speaks) in gentle rhythms of quiet beauty, lending her story the serene air derived from walking meditation. This is precisely how young Mimi (Mi-chan) prepares herself for learning from her mother the most effective way to navigate the world. Even when that world is filled with falling bombs, broken bodies, and swirling maelstroms of destruction, her perspective in remembering such inexplicable madness is one of lofty distance and personal humility. With distinctly eastern reverence for all the ancestors, these three storytellers (mother, child, child of the child) leave the humbled reader with the sacred knowledge that he or she too will someday be honored. Therefore, the world must be faced with honesty and fearlessness and best from the height of understanding and perception conveyed throughout this loveliest of books.

K.C. Finn

The Height of Fearlessness: A True Story of the Power of Perspective is a work of non-fiction written in the style of a memoir, and it was co-authored by daughter and mother team Mia Iwama Hastings and Mimi Iwama. As Mia transcribes the story told to her by Mimi, we discover the adventure of little Mi-chan when she is a sensitive nine-year-old with a love for nature. Mi-chan has to accompany her mother to the flower-mountain Hanaokayama, learning important lessons about life, nature and the balance of things along the way. What results is a story of real love and life draped in the ethereal beauty of the country and culture of Japan.

The writing team of Mia Iwama Hastings and Mimi Iwama presents a combination of talented narrative prose and a tender narrative storytelling style which brings this beautiful tale to life on many levels. Hastings writes with delicate prose and strong imagery, bringing forth color, life, and emotion in gentle wordplay that very much emulates the Japanese culture and aesthetic which she describes. Mi-chan is a truly endearing protagonist, whose memories feel like fairy stories in some places, and then inspiring and brave moments of real-life struggles in others. This balance gives the memoir its ethereal quality, but the lessons are truly grounded in non-fiction and come across with all their poignancy to stick in your memory. Overall, The Height of Fearlessness is an inspiring and powerful work of biographical memoir that is sure to sweep you away.

Asher Syed

The Height of Fearlessness: A True Story of the Power of Perspective by Mia Iwama Hastings and Mimi Iwama is the non-fiction memoir of 81-year old Mimi Iawama. The book is written in the first person, with the feeling of its storyteller speaking directly to the reader in hushed, somber tones. Almost like a secret, something she has kept inside her for decades. We first learn of Mimi “Mi-chan” as she huddles in fear during World War II, scarred by the sounds of planes overhead that rain down death over Japan. Their home, their loved ones, their neighbors, their shrines, and their previous way of living have been destroyed, but slowly they rebuild. After recovering from illness, Mi-chan and her mother make their way to the top of Hanaokayama mountain, and it is here that she learns her own strength and what it means to truly live.

The Height of Fearlessness is a spectacularly beautiful memoir, painted by Mia Iwama Hastings and her mother Mimi Iwama in a blend of picture-perfect detail and gorgeous prose. The book is an immersive experience, where every sight and sound and lesson is given to the reader in a way that honors the history of Mi-chan's family, country, nature, and her mother. I loved that Mi-chan is a descendant of a great samurai and how this weaves through the story of her own strength. The insight of her mother jumps off the page with wisdom and relevance that apply even today. “Remember, Mi-chan—you always have freedom in your mind.” This is a superb piece of work and I would absolutely recommend it to all who love historical stories that will resonate long after the book is finished.

Deborah Lloyd

This lovely memoir describes a harrowing era in Japan and its effects on one family. Shortly after the end of World War II, nine-year-old Mi-chan and her mother traveled to the flowering mountain, Hanaokayama. Having lived through multiple bombings and the horrors of seeing the devastation of their city and its residents, this time was dedicated to recovering and gaining a new perspective. In the memoir, The Height of Fearlessness: A True Story of the Power of Perspective, written by Mia Iwama Hastings and Mimi Iwama, the thoughtful young girl tells her story decades later. The young girl is now 81-year-old Mimi Iwama, who describes this extraordinary childhood journey. Mi-chan learns important life lessons from her mother during this time on the peaceful mountain. These lessons result in Mi-chan living a fulfilling, prosperous life.

The Height of Fearlessness is told through the eyes of a young girl who experienced great trauma. Her life was saved by a heroic act, and acts of gratitude and honor towards this man became a lifelong practice. The memoir relates the events of Mimi Iwama’s younger years in realistic and heartwarming terms. There is a spiritual, mystical aspect to how Mimi survived and thrived after living through numerous personal tragedies. Written in a flowing, smooth manner, the memoir reads quickly. Yet, it is thought-provoking and the reader should take time to consider each shared life lesson. Mia Iwama Hastings has penned an unforgettable memoir centered around her mother’s life inThe Height of Fearlessness. It is a compelling rendition of how love triumphs over the horrors of war.