Sunday 5 January 2020

First post for the new year...

I’m sitting here with a steaming cup of chai and a slice of freshly baked Date Bread and I’m feeling a bit sluggish with all the time off I’ve had recently.  I know I need to gear myself up to return to work tomorrow, but I’m feeling less-than-motivated. Maybe after I blog, I will feel like I’ve accomplished something and will be more inspired to get on with my day.
My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss Canadian writer Lynne Kutsukake’s debut novel, The Translation of Love.  This novel is set in Tokyo in 1947, and explores the lives of several Japanese characters as they try to create a new life after the end of World War II.  General MacArthur is there, bringing democracy to the people of Japan, and we the readers are treated to an inside look at how the Japanese people responded to this occupation/partnership with the Americans.  Aya Shimimoto is a twelve-year-old girl who has returned to Japan with her elderly father after being rounded up and put into an internment camp somewhere near the BC-Alberta border. The people in this camp had to make a choice:  return to Japan or relocate to another part of Canada. They were not allowed to move back to their homes on the West Coast. Aya’s Japanese is not very good, and she has trouble fitting in and forming friendships with the other students in her class.  Fumi is Aya’s seatmate, but she is not happy about it. She does not want to make friends with this shy, silent new girl, and resists at every turn. She is most interested in finding her sister Sumiko, ten years older than Fumi, who has recently left home to become a “bar girl”, a young woman who works at a dance hall and earns her keep by dancing with American GIs.  Sumiko used to visit quite regularly, but Fumi realizes that she has not seen her sister in quite a long time, and is determined to find out where she is, although we’re not sure if she just wants to visit or to persuade her to come home. Kondo is a teacher at these girls’ school, and he takes great interest in his students. He also moonlights at a stall in Love Letter Alley, offering to translate letters Japanese women have received from American soldiers, or to write letters to these soldiers in English from Japanese girlfriends.  Matt is a Japanese-American soldier who works at General MacArthur’s headquarters translating all the many letters the Japanese people are writing to him. Some letters are ones expressing praise and good wishes, but most are requests for more food, help finding a relative, or a desire to return to a home that no longer exists. These characters’ lives are explored in alternating chapters. Although it is just over 300 pages long, it seemed to take me forever to finish this novel, probably because I had a hard time feeling engaged in the stories until the last third of the book, when these stories and characters’ lives finally intertwined and something started to happen.  I was happy to hear that this was a unanimous reaction to the novel: we all thought it was interesting, but that it took too long for anything to happen, that it often felt like the stories and plotlines were meandering with no clear direction. Having said that, we all agreed that were were happy to have read it, that we learned alot about Japanese culture and about the experiences of the Japanese people at the time of the American Occupation in the mid- to late-1940s. One woman’s family emigrated to Canada from Holland during WWII and she commented that people may think that things are easier once a war is over but that really it is a mess for a long time until things get back to normal.  We commented that this was information about a little-known period in history, and one member said that it was just one more thing to make her feel disappointed in the Canadian government (*in 1988, then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made a formal apology and offered compensation to surviving internees: We talked about the title of the book, and discussed whether we thought it was a good choice, and to what aspects of the book it might refer. All in all, while not the most popular book selection, it sparked an interesting, lively discussion that kept us going until we were asked to wrap up so that the next group at the community centre could use the room.
That’s all for today.  Happy New Year, and may 2020 be like the vision, clear and perfect.
Bye for now…

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