Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Translation of Love

Title:  The Translation of Love
Author:  Lynne Kutsukake
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2016. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0385540671 / 978-0385540674

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through Edelweiss free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The car is in a parade all by itself."

Favorite Quote:  "Anything could be endured, she had discovered, if she could only  package the time into discrete little packets. She imagined taking the minutes, each one like a pellet, and wrapping them up - one minute, five minutes, fifteen, thirty. Once she had managed to survive a full hour, she could put the packets of time  into a box, tie it with string, and push it down a conveyor belt. Just one more minute, one more hour, one more day."

Many book have been set during World War II; only a few that I have read have presented a non-Allied perspective. A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding is one that tells a story from a Japanese perspective of the aftermath of the atomic bomb. The Translation of Love takes a broader look at the end of the war and the Allied occupation from a Japanese perspective.

The setting is war-torn Tokyo. The war has ended, but the city is under Allied occupation. General Douglas MacArthur and his troops seek to bring peace and democracy to Japan. Poverty, destruction, and scarcity govern the choices that people are making.

Fumi and Sumiko are sisters in Japan who survive the war; Sumiko particularly makes heartbreaking decisions to survive. Aya is a Canadian of Japanese heritage. She and her father live through the war in a Canadian internment camp and are then deported to Japan at the end of the war. Matt is an American soldier of Japanese heritage, who seeks to serve his country.

Through the stories of these different perspectives, this book highlights the different Japanese experiences in the war. Fumi's story is of the children of the war; they suffer the deprivation and yet survive relatively innocent of many of the atrocities of war. Sumiko's story goes from a family home to the Ginza district of Tokyo. It is the story of the sacrifices made to help a family survive; it is also the story of some negative consequences that Allied Occupation brought to Japan. Matt's story is one of having to prove your loyalty to your country because your appearance suggests you may be the enemy. Aya's story is of the people who are told they don't belong - not in Canada and the US because of their Japanese heritage and not in Japan because they are not Japanese in language and culture.

The thread that pulls the stories together is the fact that Sumiko disappears from Fumi's life, and Fumi sets out to find her. Sumiko leaves for a job, but then never comes home. Why? Has something terrible happened? Fumi's search takes the form of a letter written to General Douglas MacArthur, asking for his help in finding Sumiko. Fumi is the originator of the letter. Aya, with her knowledge of English, becomes the writer. Matt, as part of General MacArthur's correspondence team, becomes the deliverer.

This book starts off strong because the story is anchored around an innocent young girl looking for her sister and another young girl having to deal with the loss of her mother, her home, and her country. Both make compelling characters that draw me into their story.

In the middle of the book, the story scatters because it tries to show the broader impact of the war. In addition to the main characters, it introduces the story of Nancy, an American citizen in Tokyo, who had her American citizenship revoked because of decisions of survival during the war; and the story of Kondo Sensie, a teacher who moonlights as a letter writer. Between all the different perspectives, it becomes difficult to focus on one; the variety starts to overwhelm the book.

By the end, the story pulls together again, into a story of family and friendship embedded into the history of war and survival. Not all the plot lines are fully developed or resolved, but the story does come to a satisfying conclusion making it a powerful and emotional debut.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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