Monday December 26, 2016

Lynne Kutsukake on a lesser-known part of Japanese-Canadian history

The Translation of Love is Lynne Kutsukake's first novel.

The Translation of Love is Lynne Kutsukake's first novel. (Edmond Lee)

Listen 3:36

After Japan surrendered in the Second World War, the country was occupied by the Allies under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, who was charged with democratizing the country. This period in Japan's history is the backdrop for Lynn Kutsukake's debut novel, The Translation of Love. The story revolves around two girls, one Japanese and the other a Japanese-Canadian recently repatriated from Canada.

The idea came from a book called Dear General MacArthur, written by Japanese historian RinjirĊ Sodei. The book is a study of the letters written to General MacArthur during the occupation period, letters written by the Japanese public. Some were letters of adoration and thanks, and some were letters denouncing him, and some were letters asking him for personal advice and for help. So I began thinking about what kind of person would write a letter to General MacArthur. I decided the person should be a young girl, a 12-year-old. I wanted the person to be a 12-year-old because General MacArthur quite famously called Japan "A nation of 12-year-olds."

Not many people know that at the end of the war, Japanese-Canadians were given the choice of settling east of the Rockies or repatriating to Japan. They were not allowed to return to the West Coast, where their homes were. So 4,000 Japanese-Canadians ended up going to Japan under this repatriation program. In Japan, life for Japanese-Canadians was pretty difficult. First of all, there was the shock of arriving in a war-devastated country. People were starving. There was very little food. There was a lot of despair. Surviving was hard.

My parents were born in Vancouver and they were sent to internment camps during the war, as well as my grandparents on both sides. My grandparents on my mother's side did repatriate to Japan, but nobody in my family really talked about the internment, let alone repatriation. It was something I had to learn about as an adult. It was, of course, the spark for the novel, but it was something I had to learn for myself.

Lynne Kutsukake's comments have been edited and condensed.