It is hard to believe that the 2016-17 season of the Grimsby Author Series is over! The season has been full of amazing authors, great reading and wonderful introductions, not to mention the wine and snacks. It is certainly worth the drive to Grimsby for this fantastic author series! The audience was treated to a wonderful evening, ending the season with readings by Lynne Kusukake and Emily Schultz!
Lynne Kutsukake is a 3rd generation Japanese Canadian. Both her parents had been assigned to internment camps in the interior of British Columbia. They were both second generation Japanese Canadians, having been born in Canada. At the end of the war, Japanese Canadians were given the choice to move East within Canada, leaving the familiarity of BC, or to be repatriated to Japan, a country that many had never even been to. Her parents left for Toronto to find work. They met later and both never spoke of their hurtful past. They did not teach their daughter Japanese which was common in a time of sensitivity and worries about being targeted. English was necessary to live in Canada and Lynne did not learn Japanese until she was in her 20s. Sadly neither of her parents lived to read her beautiful novel.
Before writing The Translation of Love, Lynne enjoyed a career at the amazing Toronto Reference Library. She was a librarian that specialized in Japanese materials so it seems natural that she would retire to write this book, sharing a sad part of history that many Canadians might not be aware of.
The book is set in 1947 Tokyo and was inspired by letters that were sent to General MacArthur during the post-war American occupation of Japan. The Japanese people were hopeful despite critical food shortages and wrote to the General asking for help. Fascinated by the letters, Lynne shared that a collection of letters is stored in the National Archives in the U.S. It was interesting to learn that some historians postulate that MacArthur never read a single letter, while others feel that he read them but did not reply (it was interesting to learn that President Obama made it a practice to read 10 letters each day, while in office). MacArthur referred to the Japanese as a nation of twelve year olds which inspired Lynne to write from the perspective of 12 year old Fumi (who was struggling to find her sister) and of her friend Aya (who had been repatriated from a Canadian internment camp). Her goal was to write about the people who might not always have a voice: the Japanese children, the Japanese Canadian girl and the Japanese American soldier.
Kutsukake shared that it is the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the internment. Despite this sad milestone news coming from the United States is full of concerns about the treatment and possible deportation of Muslims by Trump (I almost hate to bring him up in a blog post but his behaviours keep coming up at almost every book event).
“It is important to see how history, without us being on guard, can repeat it self”.
Lynne read the first chapter to the group and I appreciated hearing her pronunciation of the names. Her reading kept the audience rapt with attention followed by an opportunity for questions.
She was asked why she chose fiction rather that non-fiction to tell this story and she laughed that fiction provided the freedom to make things up, to create characters and to get into the minds of the characters. She had never thought of writing non-fiction and her novel grew organically beginning with the idea of McArthur’s letters (she had written the examples of letters in her book rather than using real letters). She had begun thinking of writing a short story and “somehow it got bigger than that”!
Lynne indicated that once she got started, she would write out scenes, not knowing where they would go. She would become attached to the paragraphs and had to find a way to connect them together. It is obvious that she spent a great deal of time writing, rewriting and polishing each paragraph to form this novel which takes the reader to Japan from the viewpoint of a young girl missing her beloved sister. It is not only a story of love, strength and resilience but teaches the reader some history along the way.
As written in my review of Translation of Love, I enjoyed the characters and as the pages dwindled, I did not want the story to end. I was able to ask the author about writing a sequel and while she appreciated my praise, she simply said that she did not know. I do hope that she considers a sequel to describe more about these characters, how they survive the occupation and how the girls grow up in the shadow WW2.
I appreciate meeting Canadian authors who have held other careers and lived lives prior to writing stories that move, teach and entertain readers. This gives me hope that someday, I might share a novel with others at a similar event! I sure hope that we have an opportunity to read more fiction by Lynne Kutsukake!