Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake

Overall I liked this book, but at times it was a bit slow.  The novel was set in post-War Tokyo when General MacArthur and the US occupation forces were attempting to bring order and democracy to Japan.

The stories of several people are intertwined.  The main characters include Aya and her father, Japanese Canadians who elected to return to Japan following internment in the interior of BC, rather than starting over again east of the Rockies.  Aya is sent to middle school where she is mocked for her unfamiliar past and strangely accented Japanese.  Aya is told to sit next to Fumi, a tough talking girl who initially only makes fun of her.  We quickly learn that Fumi is hiding her own pain - her sister, Sumi, has disappeared into Tokyo's red light district and Fumi wants to get her back.  Fumi enlists Aya to write an English letter to General MacArthur begging his assistance in bringing her sister home.

The letter is intercepted by Matt, a Japanese American working as a translator for the occupation forces.  He and his colleagues translate the hundreds of letters sent by ordinary Japanese citizens to MacArthur - asking for assistance or merely sending their good wishes for the holidays or his birthday.  Matt feels badly for Fumi and, rather than delivering the letter, tries to find Sumi, at times with the assistance of Nancy, a Japanese American typist who works with him and who was stranded in Japan during the war as she had returned to care for an ailing relative.

The other person involved in translations is Fumi and Aya's teacher, Kondo.  To make extra money he translates letters in "Love Letter Alley" where Japanese women try to send letters to their GI boyfriends or to understand the letters they have received.  At one point Sumi comes to him for a translation of her own, but only later does Kondo learn the connection with his student.

I found the premise of the book as well as the glimpse of post-War Tokyo interesting and original.  At times the narrative dragged a bit so it's not like I was always dying to see what would happen next, but overall the book was well written and reasonably interesting.

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