Arts·Where I Write

Mark Sakamoto lost his sanctuary while writing Forgiveness, the story of a generation of trauma

Canada Reads author Mark Sakamoto underwent an "emotional excavation" while writing his novel at home.

Canada Reads author Mark Sakamoto underwent an 'emotional excavation' while writing his novel at home

This is where Canada Reads author Mark Sakamoto writes. (Supplied by Mark Sakamoto)

Leading up to Canada Reads, CBC Arts is bringing you daily essays about where this year's authors write. This edition features Forgiveness author Mark Sakamoto.

I thought long and hard about where to write Forgiveness. I knew what I was in for.

I knew that preparations were required for the emotional excavation I was undertaking. I understood — at least to some extent — that there would be tears. I knew I would be uncovering years of denial, avoidance and a deep longing of a son for his mother.

I needed a space where I could spread out a century of family photos, unpack entire lifetimes and stare into the whites of my ancestor's eyes. I knew I needed room to dance. I'd spend nights dancing to Dire Straights just as my mom and I had in the living room of our duplex in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

A coffee shop, then, was out of the question.

In the end, there really was only one choice: our bedroom.

Mark Sakamoto's memoir Forgiveness was successfully defended by Jeanne Beker on Canada Reads 2018. (CBC)

My wife, Jade, and I live with our two daughters in a Victorian semi in Toronto. Our bedroom is a loft on the third floor. When we first toured the house, that bedroom sold us.

I moved in a 12-foot table and covered it in photos, letters from my grandparents, government documents that contained unfathomable orders. I bought a Sony Walkman (do you know how hard it is to find one of those relics?). Beside our bed, I piled up the cassette tapes that I had found of my parents and grandparents. I would go to sleep every night listening to them. It was glorious. I was in communion with the people that I loved most in life.

But as days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, our bedroom transformed into one part family tomb, one part time machine.

Camping out in your bedroom for months on end is not without its challenges. Lots of life happens there. Every family artifact, government document, archived photo served as a constant reminder of the extent to which Forgiveness had taken over our lives. It was a complete surrender. I'd never thrown myself into anything as deeply and profoundly as writing this book.

I took other people down with me. Mostly, of course, Jade.

Jade (temporarily) lost her husband and 50% (OK, 35%) of her parenting equation, but she also lost her sanctuary. The one place where we would normally retreat from the world, lay our heads down and be was utterly overrun. Despite it all, in 21 months of work, I do not recall a single time when Jade voiced anger of what surely was a challenging period in her life.

Every family artifact, government document, archived photo served as a constant reminder of the extent to which Forgiveness had taken over our lives. It was a complete surrender.- Mark Sakamoto

Writing is lonely. You are in your head all the time — even when you are laying in bed with your spouse. This fact leads me to the flip side of forgiveness: gratitude. I'm unspeakably grateful that Jade let our lives be overtaken by this project. We lost so many weekends in the park with our daughters and nights out with friends and family. We lost our bedroom.

While thanking Jade in the book's Acknowledgements, I said that it felt good, finally, to be home.

I moved the table out of our bedroom the day that Forgiveness was published.


Mark Sakamoto is executive vice-president of digital health company Think Research. His bestseller 'Forgiveness, A Gift from My Grandparents,' won CBC Canada Reads in 2018. He hosts and is executive producer of 'Good People,' a docuseries on CBC Gem co-produced with Vice Media, which explores humanity’s most pressing challenges and innovative solutions that are being developed in response.