A Japanese-American doctor discovers his estranged father’s role in World War II—and a long-guarded family secret.
Daniel Tokunaga is the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at a major hospital in Philadelphia, known for his talent and ambition. He receives an unexpected call from his father, Ray—they haven’t spoken in years—informing him that his mother, Keiko, was in a car accident, and that she’s been rushed to a Los Angeles hospital. Daniel jumps on a plane to California, and after he arrives, he’s startled by a series of peculiar revelations. It turns out that his father was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary valor in France, while serving with the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit of Japanese-American soldiers in the Second World War. Daniel also learns that the U.S. Department of Defense has been calling his father repeatedly to discuss that medal—but that he’s been mysteriously reluctant to discuss it. Lam (Two Sons of China, 2016, etc.) artfully unravels the Tokunaga family’s skein of secrets, and in the process, he reveals the many difficulties that Japanese-Americans faced during the war. For example, Keiko spent three years at a detainment camp while her husband risked his life for his country; at another point, Daniel’s father objects to the girl whom he wants to marry, partly because her father was born in Japan and fought on that country’s side. Lam’s prose is always clear, and at its best, it achieves poetically elegiac notes: “The house was a time capsule. A grave, he thought….Inside, the distant pulsation of the cicadas felt far away. Inside, time had died—life gone elsewhere. Even the past had passed on.” Readers will be moved by Daniel’s plight as he desperately tries to understand a father for whom he still harbors profound resentment.
A poignant, nuanced tale of familial pain and renewal.