Friday, 11 December 2015
"Requiem" by Frances Itani
Requiem is a form of 'rest' or 'repose' in Latin. It is the beginning of the mass for the dead- "Grant them eternal rest, O Lord". The word also means an act of remembrance.
What an appropriate title.
Isn't it great when the title really does reflect what is in the novel?
And, this cover is fabulous!
Bin Okuma, an artist, is mourning the death of his wife and decides to drive across Canada with his dog- from Ottawa to British Columbia where he had been in an internment camp from 1941-1946.
There are two storylines- the building of the camp in 1941, and Bin's cross-country journey in 1997. Also there are retrospective descriptions of living with his wife, Lena, and raising his son, Greg.
This author is brilliant and her sentences are well-crafted. There is much description of nature, especially rivers and mountains.
I was most interested in the story of the internment. After the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Canadian government moved all people of Japanese descent away from the west coast. They were considered "enemy aliens". Bin Okuma, the protagonist of the novel, was about four, with an older sister and brother. The move took several stages, each with terrible conditions. Eventually, they settled in an internment camp- in fact, they were dropped off in central B.C. where they built simple shacks. While living there, Bin was given to another man to be his son. Since Bin's father had two sons, he gave his youngest son to a man who was alone. It was a permanent move, including changing Bin's last name. Bin called this man his Second Father. Second Father was a very educated and interesting man who was patient and kind to Bin. But Bin never resolved the anger at being given away by his First Father.
Second Father had been a musician and without any outlet for his musical passion, he used a piece of wood for a keyboard, painting on the white and black keys. He played Beethoven by memory and Bin learned the different sonatas even though he only heard taps on a piece of wood. I really enjoyed that part of the novel.
The other storyline was Bin's journey west with his dog. Bin's wife had died and his son was away at college. He had to face the past and heal the memories.
He arrived at the land where the internment camp had been and found that all the buildings were gone. It had been 51 years since the camp closed. He still had many unresolved emotions. "I stand still and try to gather memory. I open a mental map and unfold it carefully, square by square".
Bin's first father discovered that Bin was headed to the camp and he drove there with his brother. Bin had not seen his father in all of those 51 years. But Bin is now ready to face the past and face the father who gave him away.
The ending is so perfect: "I move towards him. Both of his arms pulling me in. A son, after all. Again. A father, a son."
Frances Itani did a great deal of research to develop this fictional story from actual historic events.
I also enjoyed her novel "Deafening", about a deaf girl in World War One. Once again, I learned a lot about history in an effective way.
Her book "Remembering the Bones" did not interest me as much, as it was an 80-year-old lady reviewing her life as she laid in a ditch waiting for help after a car accident.
Frances Itani does her best work when she is bringing history to life.