The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake
Doubleday, 2016. Hardcover, 336 pages.
Set in postwar Tokyo, Japan, this novel depicts life for the common Japanese citizen under the Occupation. It follows multiple characters ass they navigate life in a devastated country. Fumi is a preteen who wants nothing more than to locate her sister, Sumiko, who left home. Sumiko struggles to make a life for herself as a dancing partner for Allied soldiers on the Ginza in order to provide financially for her family. Aya was born and grew up in Canada but was deported with her native Japanese father after the war ended. Once in Japan, while her father struggles to find work, Aya befriends Fumi. Aya and Fumi’s teacher, Kondo Sensei teaches by day and translates letters into English for people by night. Then there is Matt Matsumoto, a young Japanese-American corporal working in the translation unit for General MacArthur’s headquarters and the typist, Japanese-American Nancy who face both personal struggles and a growing attraction to each other. Over the course of the novel, the characters cross paths and interact to show the various aspects of life after war.
To say the least life in postwar Japan was not easy. Food was hard to come by. Housing was sub-par, if it could be found at all. Orphans ran through the streets begging. Allied soldiers treated women as pleasure toys until they returned home. Japanese women held optimism that their soldier would take them to America, though that seldom happened. And the Japanese treated MacArthur as emperor, revering him and constantly sending him letters. And those letters inspired this novel, including some real letters worked in to the novel as part of Matt and Nancy’s translation work.
As I read this novel, two things struck me. Fumi, who grew up amid wartime Japan, maintained her child-like innocence and naivety throughout. Meanwhile, Aya had a harsher time in a Canadian relocation camp. The second was the ever-changing viewpoints causes each character to only be touched upon; their was not much depth. And what was presented was but one facet in their lives. For example, Fumi’s focus on locating her sister or Sensei’s skills with English. That said, if their had been greater depth, then less aspects of live in 1947-48 Japan could have been shown; the novel went for the big picture by depicting chapters from the viewpoints of about a dozen interconnected characters.
Do you think you will read this novel? If so, let me know what you think. Also, do you have another book set in post-war Japan to suggest? Or perhaps one set during or before the war? With most World War II books set on battlefields or home front America or Europe, these might be harder to come by. That said, I have reviewed another about a year ago featuring a Japanese-American.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher for review.