The Translation of Love
by Lynne Kutsukake
Page Count: 336
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Format: Kindle ARC
How got: ARC copy from NetGalley
First attention getter: synopsis and gorgeous cover
Set against the pulsing backdrop of post-war Tokyo, The Translation of Love tells the gripping and heartfelt story of a newly repatriated Japanese-Canadian girl who must help a classmate find her missing sister. A dazzling New Face of Fiction for 2016 that will appeal to readers of All the Light We Cannot See and Anita Shreve.
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 Lovemines 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.
Star Rating - 4
An amazing examination of life in Occupied Japan, this book keeps readers enthralled with an intimate look at a society in flux and the people who inhabit that world. The author does a fantastic job in making her characters very real; yet, she struggles with one main issue that ultimately make is so this book doesn’t shine as well as it could.
The author chose a fascinating subject and setting to explore. I’ve not read anything before on how life was in post WWII Japan, how a people who prided themselves on victory were in defeat or how it affected daily life in such a war-torn landscape. I’ve seen Germany explored before but not Japan.
Kutsukake also explores so many POVs that our look into Occupied Japan life is even more three-dimensional. Usually, for me, this would be a weakness as multiple POVs can dilute a story and its emotional resonance very easily. Yet, the author balances everything by making her different characters have such unique voices and coming from such different backgrounds that I never got lost at whom I was reading about. They actually proved a strength for this work.
As mentioned, the characterization for this book is something else. Every character/POV has its own unique voice: word usage, phrasing, skills, way of looking at things, ect. From the determined Fumi to the tired Kondo to the determined-to-survive Sumiko, everybody stood out as individuals. I fell in love with each and every person, rooting for each struggle to survive in a brutal new world and to build a life again.
The one area this work lacked in was the ending. It’s momentum throughout the story was going strong and then just seemed to sputter, then fail. Only a few of the story threads and POVs were resolved. I found myself thirsting for resolution on most of the threads. There are clues provided about possible ultimate fates for many of the characters, but the reader is left guessing on how many people’s future life situations worked out.
Still, overall, this is an engaging look at post-WWII Japan, a world full of change, despair, and ultimately hope for the future. The characters sing with life, and the story itself is the novel’s strongest feature. Even though there are a ton of loose threads at the end, I still feel this is a strong example of historical fiction done well. Recommended for sure!
Note: Book received for free from publisher via NetGalley in exchange for honest review.