Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Requiem, by Frances Itani, is a beautifully-written novel that pays homage to the Japanese-Canadian internment during World War II. During that time, 21,000 Canadian citizens of Japanese descent were imprisoned in internment camps. The same fate befell American citizens in our country.

Set against this backdrop, Itani focuses on the plight of one family--that of the young and artistic son, Bin--to explore the injustice a government inflicted on a minority. Like other members of the Japanese Canadian fishing community on Vancouver Island, the Okuma family was forced to abandon their home and boat, taking only the belongings they could carry. They were moved inland from the "Protected Zone" of the coast into the cold and mountainous region 100 miles west of their home. There they were given makeshift housing without plumbing, electricity, or adequate food supplies.

The book weaves from present-day (1997) to the years 1942 and those immediately following the war. The narrator is an adult Bin looking back on his childhood--a childhood marred not only by the internment and later ostracism in public schools, but by a devastating action taken by his birth father.  In a custom practiced by Japanese of earlier generations, Bin's father gave him away to an educated man who had no sons, and hence, had no way of carrying on his family name. This man, Okuma-san, encourages Bin to embrace his artistic talents. But no amount of kindness removes the sting of abandonment.

Now, fifty years later, Bin has yet to make sense of his father's actions. The sudden death of Bin's wife propels him on a journey to visit the 84 year old father and the internment camp that figure so prominently in Bin's life.

Okuma-san once told Bin that rage has the power to consume (p. 282). Ultimately, Requiem is a redemptive novel about the power of forgiveness and the discovery that truth can heal as well as enlighten.

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