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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-10-15
- Reviewer: Staff
In a narrative that alternates between past and present, Canadian author Itani, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Deafening, examines the internment of Japanese Canadian citizens durinWWIIand its impact on one family. In 1997, artist Binosuke Okuma drives from Montreal to the site of the camp on the Fraser River where his family has been interned when Bin was very y oung, and where his father made a decision that would cut him off from his familyâand permit him to fulfill his potential as an artist. But at first memories of Bin's wife, Lena, who died of an stroke, chase him. Accompanied by his dog, Basil, and armed with tapes of Beethoven and a bottle of whisky, Bin grapples with the anger and silence that swathe his experience of internment and separationâwhich his wife had urged him to address. After learning that his aging father sits in a chair facing the door, waiting for Bin's arrival not far from the location of the Fraser River camp, Bin must decide if he can return to the father who altered his fate, allowing him, he hopes, to keep going, as a son, an artist, a widower, and as a father himself who had built his own family far away from the broken histories buried at the camps. This sparse and melancholy meditation on family, history, and the healing properties of art addresses a little-known chapter in Canada's history, though Itani failes to bring those events and his charactesr fully to life. Ageht: Westwood Creative Artists. (Aug.)
We knew of them at the time, but we did not know them for what they were—acts of national ruthlessness for which Pearl Harbor was no excuse. Only popular hysteria explains the banishment of more than 20,000 Japanese-Canadians (and more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans) to detention camps during World War ll.
Requiem covers this shameful chapter in North American history with clear-eyed historical accuracy. Forcibly removed to transport boats, young Bin Okuma and his family watch helplessly as their former neighbors loot their homes. One hundred miles from the “Protected Zone,” they are dumped on unsettled lands and forced to fend for themselves until the end of the war. It is here that Bin’s “First Father” gives him away to another man who has no son.
Fifty-some years later, Bin Okuma impulsively takes off with his dog Basil (a welcome light note) to revisit the location of his five-year detention, and to deal with the unspoken issues of his boyhood. His adoptive father Okuma-san is gone, but his First Father is still alive. At the abandoned camp, they meet again, and pride crumbles beneath the shared need of their relationship.
Frances Itani, a prizewinner for her previous book, Deafening, writes with a delicate grasp of both the obvious and the unspoken, using ordinary words charged with extraordinary meaning to produce a serious book that nevertheless invites you to keep reading past midnight. In the end, Requiem promises healing out of drowning hopelessness.