Book Review: The Translation of Love

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The book: The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake

What it’s about: In post-WWII Japan, under the U.S. occupation led by General Douglas MacArthur, the Japanese people struggle to find their footing in a changing political climate. A Japanese girl named Fumi is desperately seeking her missing older sister, Sumiko. With the help of her friend, Aya, a recently repatriated Japanese Canadian girl, she writes a letter to General MacArthur, imploring him to help her find her sister.

What I thought: I really enjoyed this book, from the characters to the story to the way Kutsukake structured the book. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character, and these intertwining threads serve to pull the reader along in the book, making it hard to put down at times. Through the characters, we get a sense of a wide range of experiences for people of Japanese decent during this period of history. From Japanese Canadians living in interment camps, to Japanese families who lived through the war, to Japanese Americans working in Japan for the U.S. military, I really enjoyed reading so many different angles. Starting this book, I knew about interment camps (another excellent novel about Canadian interment camps is Obasan by Joy Kogawa), but it was eye-opening to get these other perspectives. Another theme throughout the book that I really loved was the subtle commentary on translation and language. There are essentially three different translators in this story, working to help the characters pass along deeply personal and important messages.

From the first pages: “Ever since her sister had gone away, Fumi looked forward to the democracy lunches with a special, ravenous hunger. The American soldiers came to her school once a week with deliveries, and though she never knew what they would bring, it didn’t matter. She wanted it all, whatever it was. Sometimes it was powdered milk and soft white bread as fluffy as cake. Sometimes it was peanut butter, a sticky brown paste whose unusual flavor–somehow sweet and salty at the same time–was surprisingly addictive. The lunch supplements supplied by the Occupation forces reminded her of the kind of presents her older sister, Sumiko, used to bring in the days when she still came home. Fumi’s hunger was insatiable, and although she couldn’t have put it in so many words, some part of her sensed that her craving was inseparable from her longing for her sister’s return.”

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