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Born and raised in Vancouver, 13-year-old Aya Shimamura is released from a Canadian internment camp only to be repatriated to Japan with her father, who was faced with an unsettling choice: move east of the Rocky Mountains or go back to Japan. With no hope of restitution and grieving the loss of Aya's mother during internment, her father feels there's nothing left for them in Canada and signs a form that enables the government to deport him.
But life in Tokyo is not much better. Aya's father struggles to find work, compromising his morals and toiling long hours. Aya, meanwhile, is something of a pariah at her school, bullied for being foreign and paralyzed when asked to communicate in Japanese. Aya's alienation is eventually mitigated by one of her principal tormentors, a willful girl named Fumi Tanaka, whose older sister has mysteriously disappeared.
When a rumor surfaces that Douglas MacArthur, who is overseeing the Allied occupation of Japan, sometimes helps citizens in need, Fumi enlists Aya to compose a letter asking the general to find her beloved sister. The letter is delivered into the reluctant hands of Corporal Matt Matsumoto, a Japanese American serving with the Allied forces, whose endless job is translating the thousands of letters MacArthur receives each week. Matt feels an affinity toward Fumi but is largely powerless, and the girls decide to take matters into their own hands, venturing into the dark and dangerous world of Tokyo's red-light district.
Told through rich, interlocking storylines, The Translation of Love mines a turbulent period to show how war irrevocably shapes the lives of the conquered - and yet the novel also allows for a poignant spark of resilience, friendship, and love that translates across cultures and borders to stunning effect.
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By CHET YARBROUGH on 06-27-17
AFTERMATH OF WAR
Lynne Kutsukake offers a defeated nation’s perspective on the aftermath of WWII in “The Translation of Love”. Kutsukake is a third generation Canadian. Not old enough to have experienced Japan’s defeat, but wise enough to reflect on WWII’s human tragedy. As noted many times in former reviews, there are no winners in war. There are only survivors.
Kutsukake creates a story of a 12-year-old Japanese Canadian girl at the end of WWII. Her name is Aya Shimamura. In Canada, her mother and father experience discrimination of being a minority in a largely homogeneous nation. Aya’s mother commits suicide by drowning.
Kutsukake re-creates the 1945, god-like adoration of MacArthur by the Japanese. Though there is obvious respect for MacArthur’s power and position in Japan, there is underlying resentment by many Japanese of America’s occupation and cultural influence. The devastation and poverty of the countryside is contrasted with the behavior of American soldiers assigned to Japan.
Kutsukake shows the heartache of loss, the importance of culture, friendship, and respect. More significantly, her novel vivifies the negative consequence of war. It tears families apart. It reinforces discrimination. It diminishes society. “The Translation of Love” is a well told story of life’s return to normality after war.