The Next Chapter

How Mark Sakamoto's grandparents' stories of survival shaped him

Mark Sakamoto discusses his memoir, Forgiveness, which won Canada Reads 2018.
Mark Sakamoto is the author of Forgiveness. (Mark Sakamoto/HarperCollins)

Mark Sakamoto's paternal grandparents were Japanese Canadians interned by the Canadian government during the Second World War. Mark's maternal grandfather was a prisoner of war captured by Japanese forces while he was on a doomed deployment to Hong Kong. Mark Sakamoto's memoir, Forgiveness: A Gift from My Grandparents, tells the true story of how his grandparents survived two very different experiences of the war and how those stories of survival shaped him as a Canadian, a man and a father.

Forgivenessdefended by Jeanne Beker, was the winner of Canada Reads 2018. This interview originally aired on Feb. 19, 2018.

Hate cloaked in the flag

"My grandma was born in Canada. But hate, as it often does, came wrapped in the flag. Anti-Asian forces were very prevalent in B.C. and California. They were used in the Second World War as a means to eradicate the Japanese Canadians. So they were forcibly moved. They lost all of their material possessions and were shipped across the country. My grandma lived in a modified chicken coop on the Prairies outside of Coaldale, Alta. They spent the entire war battling poverty and the sun in the summer and the minus 40 degree weather in the winter, living in a slightly modified chicken coop.

"Afterward, every head of military, RCMP, the Navy said there was no Japanese Canadian threat at all. Zero threat. This was a racist policy that was carried out under the guise of national security." 

On diving into the details

"I knew the bones of the stories, but I didn't know the details. And diving into the details, I saw the devil everywhere. I think the reason for the silence is different. My grandma was afraid that if Japanese Canadians were seen as sort of whining about what happened, they would be looked down upon or those kinds of resentments or hate could resurface. On the other side, my grandpa was very quiet about his experiences, mostly because I think he didn't want to relive them himself. It was bad enough that he had to do it in his dreams."

On inherited trauma

"Their real victory wasn't that they lived through these injurious years. It's how they went on and lived their lives. Forgiveness has nothing to do with the past. It allows the person to not carry around those grievances and live with an open heart tomorrow. That's what they were able to use forgiveness for. It was their escape hatch into a future that was worth living. It was very future-driven for both of them. It was focused on their children. They understood that their hearts were their children's emotional home. They had to clean it up or they'd pass those transgressions on, and that would be the worst surrender imaginable. So they just refused to do it."

Mark Sakamoto's comments have been edited and condensed.