Canada Reads

Why Mark Sakamoto's father got emotional reading his son's memoir Forgiveness

In this special series, CBC Books asked a reader with a personal connection to each of the Canada Reads books to share how the books impacted them.
From left to right: Mitsue Sakamoto, Phyllis MacLean, Ralph MacLean and Stanley Sakamoto. (Courtesy of Stanley Sakamoto)

Forgiveness is the true story of Mark Sakamoto's grandparents. His maternal grandfather was captured and imprisoned as a prisoner of war in Japan during the Second World War — all while his paternal grandmother and her Japanese-Canadian family were interned by their own government in Alberta. 

The memoir, defended by fashion icon Jeanne Beker, was the winner of Canada Reads 2018. In the spirit of the debates, CBC Books asked a reader with a personal connection to each of the books in contention to tell us how the story impacted them.

Stanley Sakamoto is Mark's father. Below, he writes about what seeing his family's story become a book meant to him.

Remembering wrongdoing

Forgiveness tells the incredible true story of how Mark Sakamoto's grandparents survived the Second World War. (HarperCollins)

When Mark let us know that he was embarking on a writing project to record the history of his grandparents' lives, I was happy that this time in Canada's history would be brought forward. There are many aspects of racism that the general public remains unaware of, and I think that it is important that we look at these dark moments and learn from them. The image of my parents' box on the cover of Forgiveness reminds me of their forcible removal from Vancouver. Each person was allowed to take 150 pounds of their life's possessions. I can't imagine this; on a flight to Toronto I take 50 pounds, and that's just clothes — not food, cooking implements and personal possessions. I feel incensed at this injustice.

Overcome with emotion

When Mark sent us copies of the first edition, we were ecstatic and so proud of this accomplishment, and proud of our son for caring so intensely about his family and its history. I had read portions of Forgiveness prior to publication, but had not read all of it. Picking up the book for the first time, I stopped at photos of my parents on a date in Vancouver, at their wedding photo and at a photo of three starving PoWs. I looked at the photo of Mark and his brother Daniel playing chess with their grandpa Ralph in the mid 1980s and read a few pages. I don't know how to describe the mix of emotions I felt when I realized that Mark had also written about his own journey of forgiveness and the tragic death of his mother.

Reading about what Mark and his brother experienced during the breakup of my marriage to their mother and her eventual death made me well up with emotion. I found tears running down my cheeks reading about those days of grief and loss. I reflected upon my own process of forgiveness after reading this part of the book, knowing that the only way I got through that time was to forgive.

Private lives; public stories

Reading about difficult times in my own private life also shook me. The Japanese culture is more private than many, and I am a private person. To read my own story in someone else's words left me feeling uncomfortably exposed. Recalling a time when I was separated from my children brought back memories of heartbreak and anger. Reading about my playing ice hockey and being called "Hackamoto" made me laugh though! My parents have passed away, so I cannot speak with them about the renewed interest in Mark's book through Canada Reads. I have, however, spoken with Ralph MacLean. I called him the other day and said, "Ralph, you are famous." He replied, "I am just a cog in the wheel." He is a man of humility and always has been. He is one of only 13 Hong Kong veterans surviving today. Ralph now resides at the Colonel Belsher Veterans Home in Calgary and continues to find purpose by befriending newcomers to the home and helping to make their transitions as easy as possible.

Choosing forgiveness

Even though both Mitsue and Ralph experienced unimaginable trauma during the war, they chose forgiveness. My mother Mitsue's purpose was to show unconditional love to everyone in her family. She was a warrior — beautiful and gentle on the exterior — and possessed a strong unwavering dedication to her family which always shone brightly. I miss my mother, and to see her spirit remembered in Mark's book is heartwarming.

I am so grateful and proud of Mark for writing Forgiveness. It is a universal concept that needs to resonate through the world today.

The Canada Reads 2018 contenders: