21,000 Japanese-Canadians were rounded up and placed in internment camps during World War 2. This work of historical fiction reads like a memoir. Themes of loss and grief in one man are woven together seamlessly with stories of those who suffered unjustly at the hands of government forces. I remember reading about similar American history in Snow Falling on Cedars, and was myself unaware that this had happened in Canada as well. Probably the most famous novel about this history was written by Joy Kagawa in a novel called Obasan.
This is a quiet novel, evocative, lyrical and beautifully written. Though there is not much plot, there is movement as Bin Okuma, after losing his wife and struggling with his art work, travels across the country with his beloved dog Basil, hunting down ghosts of his childhood. He travels to meet his First Father to uncover some mysteries of the past. The book is a historical account of the tremendous injustices of this shameful racism, but it is not without redemptive themes of love and art and hope. It is a story well told and very readable. Although I found it a bit plodding and slow at times, I also found parts of it fascinating and I am glad that I stuck with it. It will be a book that is not easily forgotten and is a good choice for book clubs.
Just as I finished this novel I ran into a quote on Facebook which couldn’t have been more well timed and appropriate. The topic of the quote refers to an ancient Japanese practice called kintsugi. “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.” (Billie Mobayed) There is a crack in everything. As Leonard Cohen says, that’s how the light gets in. Shattered pieces can learn to mend; brokenness creates a unique history that can become beautiful when it becomes strong again.
There are a lot of music references in this novel. For your convenience, here is a handy playlist.
Itani’s novel is this year’s choice for One Book, One Mississauga. It’s a city-wide library program where residents are encouraged to read one book over the summer, and then participate in events in the fall where the book will be discussed in more detail. It will be the biggest book club in the city!
Note: Itani’s husband lived the history in this novel. Here is an article about him.