Arts & Expression, East Asian, Literature
A third-generation Japanese Canadian, Lynne Kutsukake worked for many years as a librarian at the University of Toronto, specializing in Japanese materials. Her short fiction has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, Grain, The Windsor Review, Ricepaper, and Prairie Fire. The Translation of Love is her first novel.
Content below included with permission from Lynne Kutsukake.
An emotionally gripping portrait of postwar 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. Although Matt feels an affinity with Fumi, he 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 story lines, 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.
“The Translation of Love is a rarity: a haunting mystery that is also a moving coming-of-age story. A young woman disappears in the midst of the American occupation of Tokyo after the Second World War, and her younger sister tries desperately to find her. Lynne Kutsukake has written a remarkable, beautiful first novel.” —Chris Bohjalian, author of The Guest Room and Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands
“Lynne Kutsukake paints a vivid portrait of the American Occupation of Japan in The Translation of Love and keenly tackles the layered complexities of national identities in flux: Japanese, Canadian, and American. At the heart of this book is a young girl’s page-turning quest to find her missing sister, and a touching, masterfully woven tale of bystanders who cannot look away.” —Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist
“The Translation of Love is a sweepingly gorgeous book about post-war Japan, a shattered country trying to piece itself back together. It begins with a letter passed to General MacArthur by two little girls, and ends with a heart-stopping search for a lost sister in the underbelly of Tokyo. From the desperate clutch of friendship in the time of tumult, to the bustling night markets and brothels-every brutal, moving moment is beautifully wrought in Lynne Kutsukake’s expert hands. An incredible debut.” —Lisa Gabriele, author of Tempting Faith DiNapoli, The Almost Archer Sisters, and the S.E.C.R.E.T. series under L. Marie Adeline
“An evocative and compelling tale of friendship, family and a country in transition. Lynne Kutsukake’s novel is an elegantly crafted reminder that no one is left untouched by the ripple effects of war, and that our quests for outside truths can often lead us to secrets we’ve been keeping from ourselves.” —Sarah Bird, author of Above the East China Sea and The Yokota Officers Club.
“Through several different voices, The Translation of Love takes the reader into the centre of post-war Tokyo. But it is the story of the reluctant friendship between thirteen-year old Japanese-Canadian Aya (who has been repatriated to Japan with her father) and her willful Japanese schoolmate, Fumi, that forms the nucleus of this moving book. In clear, confident prose, Lynne Kutsukake examines the lives of people who have been affected by the horrors of war and who must now navigate a new world order. In doing so, she explores the complexities of the human heart and the universal need to belong. This first novel is a must-read, a strong and impressive debut.” —Judy Fong Bates, author of Midnight at the Dragon Cafe
“This stunning novel showcases Kutsukake’s soaring talent. Moving from the gorgeously epic to the unflinchingly intimate, The Translation of Love takes us to the emotional core of Occupied Japan. It captures the strange, liminal time between destruction and recovery, and the uttermost vulnerability of those carrying on in the rubble of uncertainty and loss. I was especially moved by the way Kutsukake portrayed the tenacity of childhood and its attunement to the apprehensions and pleasures of life. This beautiful and mesmerizing book will be a special treat for anyone who loves dramatic history and ingenious storytelling.” —Kyo Maclear, author of The Letter Opener
“Lynne Kutsukake is a beautiful writer. The Translation of Love is shaped by her spare and elegant prose into an accomplished and powerful story.” —Helen Humphreys, author of Coventry
“An exquisitely crafted tale of war’s survivors that shimmers with grace, wisdom and compassion. It compels the reader right up to its gorgeous and deeply humane conclusion.” —Kerri Sakamoto, author of The Electrical Field
“Lynne Kutsukake’s remarkable debut spans the emotional terrain between identity and loyalty, love and loss, victory and defeat. The Translation of Love resonates with vivid images of post-war Japan and the universal urge to build a new life atop the wreckage of the old. This is a bold, beautiful book.” —Brian Payton, author of The Wind Is Not a River
“Kutsukake skillfully weaves these characters’ varied perspectives together to create a vivid and memorable account of ordinary people struggling to recover from the devastations of war.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Through an elegant web of interconnected storylines, Kutsukake’s absorbing debut brings American-occupied postwar Tokyo to life. . . . Emotionally rich without turning saccharine, twisting without losing its grounding in reality, Kutsukake’s novel is classic historical fiction at its best. A vivid delight chronicling a fascinating-and-little-discussed-chapter in world history.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[A] moving debut. . . . Kutsukake’s story is consistently engaging. . . . The result is a memorable story of hope and loneliness with a cathartic ending.” —Publishers Weekly