The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake

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The plainness of Kutsukake’s prose can verge on threadbare, with patches of earnest research peeking through, but these lapses are balanced by moments of indelible poignancy.
-NY Times

Synopsis

An emotionally gripping portrait of post-war Japan, where a newly repatriated girl must help a classmate find her missing sister.


After spending the war years in a Canadian internment camp, thirteen-year-old Aya Shimamura and her father are faced with a gut-wrenching choice: Move east of the Rocky Mountains or go “back” to Japan. Barred from returning home to the west coast and bitterly grieving the loss of Aya’s mother during internment, Aya’s father signs a form that enables the government to deport them.

But war-devastated Tokyo is not much better. Aya’s father struggles to find work, compromising his morals and toiling long hours. Meanwhile Aya, born and raised in Vancouver, is something of a pariah at her school, bullied for being foreign and paralyzed when asked to communicate in Japanese. Aya’s alienation is eventually mitigated by one of her principal tormenters, a willful girl named Fumi Tanaka, whose older sister has mysteriously disappeared.

When a rumor surfaces that General MacArthur, who is overseeing the Occupation, might help citizens in need, Fumi enlists Aya to compose a letter asking him to find her beloved sister. The letter is delivered into the reluctant hands of Corporal Matt Matsumoto, a Japanese American serving with the Occupation forces, whose endless job is translating the thousands of letters MacArthur receives each week. Matt feels an affinity toward Fumi but is largely powerless, and the girls decide to take matters into their own hands, venturing into the dark and dangerous underside of Tokyo’s Ginza district.

Told through rich, interlocking storylines, The Translation of Love mines this turbulent period to show how war irrevocably shapes the lives of people on both sides—and yet the novel also allows for a poignant spark of resilience, friendship, and love that translates across cultures and borders to stunning effect.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Lynne Kutsukake

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LYNNE KUTSUKAKE earned a master's degree in East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto and studied Japanese literature in Japan, eventually becoming a librarian in Toronto. Her short fiction has appeared in Grain, Prairie Fire, The Dalhousie Review, The Windsor Review, and Ricepaper. She was a finalist for the Journey Prize in 2010. The Translation of Love is her first novel. The author lives in Toronto, ON.
 
Published April 5, 2016 by Doubleday. 336 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction, War, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Fiction
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Critic reviews for The Translation of Love
All: 3 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Excellent
on Feb 11 2016

Emotionally rich without turning saccharine, twisting without losing its grounding in reality, Kutsukake's novel is classic historical fiction at its best.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Janice P. Nimura on Apr 15 2016

The plainness of Kutsukake’s prose can verge on threadbare, with patches of earnest research peeking through, but these lapses are balanced by moments of indelible poignancy.

Read Full Review of The Translation of Love | See more reviews from NY Times

Globe and Mail

Below average
Reviewed by Trilby Kent on Apr 08 2016

The sanitized treatment of these topics sometimes seems more appropriate for a book for young adults, while the too-easy resolution makes the concluding sections feel slightly hollow.

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