Earlier this month, I’d posted about taking The FOLD‘s #DiverseBooks Reading Challenge, with some awesome reads by FOLD 2016 authors (See Item # 8).
The FOLD’s 2016 Reading List
- A book you’ve had for more than a year.
- A book outside of your ‘favourite genre’.
- A book you buy at an indie bookstore.
- A book by a person of a faith (different from your own).
- A book by an Aboriginal author.
- A book by a Canadian LGBTQ author.
- A book by a Canadian person of colour.
- A book by a FOLD 2016 author.
Today’s read comes courtesy of Item # 7:
# 7 A book by a Canadian person of colour
The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake
I took this book to the beach on a scorching summer day, and it was so captivating I almost ended up reading all afternoon without going into the water. (Key word: almost. But if you’ve been in Toronto this summer, you know how much that ‘almost’ means.)
In post-World War II Japan, thirteen-year-old Fumi, with the help of her classmate Aya, a repatriated Japanese-Canadian, writes to General Douglas MacArthur for help in finding her older sister Sumiko, who had left home to be a dancer at a nightclub frequented by American GI’s and never returned. Their stories interlock with that of Matt, the Japanese-American GI who translates letters to MacArthur from Japanese people asking about his promise of a brighter future; Kondo, a schoolteacher who translates love letters for the Japanese girlfriends of American GI’s; and Sumiko herself, whose story echoes that of so many Japanese women in that era.
Translation of Love is such a beautifully told story of interwoven narratives that resonated with me because I could imagine my own home country, the Philippines, after the war, and how my family must have felt when General MacArthur gave them a similar promise of liberation and hope. It feels a bit odd to feel that connection to a story about Japan, since a lot of the atrocities Filipinos suffered during World War II were at the hands of Japanese soldiers, but like Katsukake’s characters, Filipinos also looked (and many still do today) to America for the promise of a better life.
Most palpable in Translation is the desperation mixed with hope in Japanese women looking for an American to fall in love with them enough to take them back to a life of comfort and relative luxury in America. I can’t remember which of the characters said that the women of Japan showed the most courage after the war, but the sentiment certainly felt true while reading this book.
Contrasted with their hope is the harsh reality of life as a person of Japanese descent in North America. Along with Aya and her father, who lived at a concentration camp before being kicked out of Canada, we also read of Matt’s co-worker Nancy, a Japanese-American who happened to be in Japan when war broke out and was unable to return home. Translation is moving and complex, and the characters all feel so real. A beautiful book.
The Illegal by Lawrence Hill
Keita Ali is an elite runner from Zantoroland who escapes to Freedom State when his journalist father is killed for his activism against the government. It’s a tough life for an undocumented immigrant in Freedom State, where the government is cracking down on immigration and deporting numerous illegals back to Zantoroland. When Keita enters a major race for money and wins, his newfound notoriety catches the attention of the Zantoroland government, which captures his sister Charity and demands an exorbitant ransom. Keita’s story intersects with that of a brothel in poverty-stricken Africtown when a USB that incriminates the Prime Minister ends up in Keita’s bag.
The allegories to real life are very thinly veiled, yet also very relevant. This book was published in 2015, when thousands of Syrian refugees were trying to enter Canada, the US and other countries, and the Canadian government promised to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees within a year.
It seems odd to say about a book that tackles such real-world issues, but once we move into Freedom State, the violence in the story almost feels…sanitized? In an early chapter, set in Zantoroland, a young Keita is called upon to pick up his father’s body from the so-called “Pink Palace,” where political dissidents are summoned and few are able to leave. There’s a chilling bit about the government’s requests for ransom, and how to tell if there’s any hope at all of getting your loved one back alive. The violence in Freedom State stands in stark contrast to this — for example, the major threat is a bounty hunter who can shoot off a finger without harming the rest of the body, and while this is certainly menacing, it feels almost stylized compared to the Pink Palace segment.
Possibly, after the threat of the Pink Palace and a phone call suggesting a young boy bring a fruit cart to take his father home, the more familiar image of a hired gun just doesn’t have the same impact, though I wouldn’t discount the similar degree of danger. I wonder if this dichotomy is a personal response from me or a deliberate narrative move on Hill’s part, to highlight the many different types of violence and danger refugees and illegal immigrants face, from whatever they were escaping in their country of origin to the more subtle yet equally inescapable source of fear in their new home.
Special Mention: Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead is not Canadian, but Underground Railroad is absolutely amazing. I highly recommend it.
#6 A book by a Canadian LGBTQ author.
I loved Jeffrey Round’s Endgame (punk rock riff on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None) and I’m excited to read Lake on the Mountain.
#5 A book by an Aboriginal author.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for an advance reading copy of Translation of Love in exchange for an honest review.
All of these are on my TBR and the latter has just arrived at the library for pick-up; I’m really looking forward to them. It’s probably an obvious choice, but have you read Thomas King before? Here are some of my old favourites by Canadian/aboriginal storytellers if you’re interested: http://www.buriedinprint.com/?p=16631 But I’ve read some other good ones this year too!
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