The Translation of Love – Lynne Kutsukake
I was sent a copy of this by the lovely people at Penguin Random House. Thanks guys!
Thirteen-year-old Aya Shimamura is released from a Canadian internment camp in 1946, still grieving the recent death of her mother, and repatriated to Japan with her embittered father. They arrive in a devastated Tokyo occupied by the Americans under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Aya’s English-language abilities are prized by the principal of her new school, but her status as the “repat girl” makes her a social pariah–until her seatmate, a fierce, willful girl named Fumi Tanaka, decides that Aya might be able to help her find her missing older sister. Beautiful Sumiko has disappeared into the seedy back alleys of the Ginza. Fumi has heard that General MacArthur sometimes assists Japanese citizens in need, and she enlists Aya to compose a letter in English asking him for help.
Corporal Matt Matsumoto is a Japanese-American working for the Occupation forces, and it’s his overwhelming job to translate thousands of letters for the General. He is entrusted with the safe delivery of Fumi’s letter; but Fumi, desperate for answers, takes matters into her own hands, venturing into the Ginza with Aya in tow.
Told through rich, interlocking storylines, The Translation of Love mines a turbulent period to show how war irrevocably shapes the lives of both the occupied and the occupiers, and how the poignant spark of resilience, friendship and love transcends cultures and borders to stunning effect.
When I was given the opportunity to read this, I jumped at the chance, I love books set in or immediately after WW2, it’s my favourite period of history, add to this the fact that I don’t know an awful lot about this era outside of Europe and my love affair with Japan, it was a bit of a no brainer. White people do like to hide the more unsavoury moments in history, so its hardly surprising that we aren’t taught about the treatment of the Japanese people in history lessons, which was part of the reason why I devoured this book so quickly, aside from being a wonderfully written, inter connecting story about a number of people living in Japan at the time, it was also a compelling and fascinating history lesson for me.
Translation of Love features the stories of several different people in various levels of society. We have Fumi, a young girl who has never left Japan, who is desperately searching for her older sister who left to make money working with the occupying American soldiers. We have Mat, a Japanese-American soldier who has returned to Tokyo to work in General McArthur’s office as a translator. We have Aya, a girl born in Canada to Japanese parents who spent the war in an interment camp before being unceremoniously deported to a country she has no real connection to. We have the girl’s teacher, a man who sells his skills as a translator to women desperately searching for GIs who have broken their hearts and at the root of it all, General McArthur and the many letters that fall into his lap from Japanese families trying to come to terms with occupation and all that brings with it. It is even more than this collection of stories though, this is a book about friendship, love, forgiveness and survival in a familiar land that is becoming more alien by the day. Even if the character’s live’s weren’t so interesting, this would be a fascinating read purely for the insight into a time that is not often discussed.
This really is a beautifully crafted novel and I hope to have the opportunity to read more from Lynne Katsukake and more from this era.
Thank you to Penguin Random House for sending me a copy.