Review: The Translation of Love ISBN 9780345809377

Review: The Translation of Love ISBN 9780345809377

Title: The Translation of Love
Author: Lynne Kutsukake
ISBN: 9780345809377
Price: $29.95
Publisher: Knopf Canada

Review by Rosanna Haroutounian

Little is written about the dark period of Canadian history in which 23,000 people of Japanese descent were interned in B.C. and Alberta following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Even less is known about those who were deported to Japan to be repatriated.

Lynne Kutsukake takes us to post-WWII Japan in her first novel, The Translation of Love, through the eyes of young Aya Shimamura who has just arrived in Tokyo from a Canadian internment camp with her father. Aya’s father works long hours to support himself and his daughter, leaving her alone to make new friends, learn about her Japanese culture, and solve the mystery surrounding her mother’s death at the internment camp.

In American-Occupied Japan, “democracy” abounds at school where children learn English, are routinely deloused using DDT, and receive lunchtime snacks like peanut butter, “a sticky brown paste whose unusual flavor – somehow sweet and salty at the same time – was surprisingly addictive.”

Aya also learns about GIs, who pick-up Japanese girlfriends at the infamous dancehalls, and their commander, General MacArthur, who promises to respond to the Japanese people who write him letters about everything from soy sauce prices to the children they lost in the war.

Her classmate, Fumi Tanaka, slowly becomes Aya’s first friend in Japan and she agrees to help Fumi find her sister, Sumiko, who has left home to make money for her family. Other characters come and go along the way, including the girls’ teacher Kondo, who translates letters from American GIs for their Japanese girlfriends in Love Letter Alley, and Japanese-Americans Matt and Nancy, who work at General Headquarters.

“Tokyo was full of demobilized soldiers who either didn’t want to go home or had no home to go back to. Even now shiploads of them still arrived from everywhere the Japanese empire had once stretched.”

Kutsukake reveals how viciously war can tear apart families and dehumanize the most vulnerable members of a society through the poignant observations of her characters who are attempting to navigate this new terrain. They symbolize the ways American and Japanese cultures intertwined and clashed in a post-war era marked less by peace and calm than by uncertainty, fear, and confusion.

The Translation of Love raises questions about the enduring influence that “Occupiers” have on the “Occupied.” Ongoing American missions to bring “democracy” and “freedom” to other parts of the world mean we will continue to see both the good and bad effects of clashing cultures and claims to authority.

The novel represents a counterview to popular retellings about the glories and downfalls of the Second World War. It reminds readers that there are no real winners at the end of a war when both sides have suffered casualties and must rebuild their lives in homes that have been irreversible transformed.

The Translation of Love is a much-needed addition to Canada’s rich multicultural narrative and adds new dimensions to our understanding of history and world events.


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