I stumbled upon this book quite literally as I dodged a fellow traveller’s trolley at the airport booskstore and grabbed a bookshelf for support. There was this book staring at me. I had never heard of the author before but there was something intriguing about the book.
This is the story of young Japanese women at the turn of the century who sail to America as mail order brides in the hope of a better future .From the time they leave Japan to the time they reach America they have already discovered that life and love are never what they seem. Yet it will take them a lifetime to discover that the new country they think they finally know is one they don’t know at all.
The book works skillfully on two levels. On one it is the history of Japanese immigration to the US often to be used as labour in fields and homes and shops, and the internment of Japanese Americans in American camps during World War 2.
It is a history that has been overshadowed by Chinese and Korean immigration to America at least for non Americans like me so I found this period from the 1900’s to 1945 revelatory.
The narrative style is part of the book’s exquisite crafting. The author uses the collective voice almost like incantations and immerses us in waves of experiences. Marriage, motherhood, death, the struggle to adapt to a new culture are raised from the everyday domestic to the hauntingly universal.
In her modern day chorus we never get to know any single woman closely but we seem to know them all intimately. It is not one woman’s story but everywoman’s story and then it becomes the timeless story of immigration and the space between home and homelessness where the stories of immigration are enacted. That is the second more powerful level on which the book works.
I am waiting to get my hands on Otsuka’s first book “The Emperor was Divine”