Layers of grief and anger surrounding dishonorable events in history are excavated in the new work from a much-garlanded Canadian writer.
Itani (Remembering the Bones, 2007, etc.), who has won or been shortlisted for several major prizes, here tackles a national outrage in a skillful if mournful story woven around the experience of Japanese Canadians who, after Pearl Harbor, were labeled enemy aliens and deported from the West Coast to makeshift camps in inhospitable terrain, often at the loss of their livelihoods, homes and possessions. Such was the fate of Bin Okuma’s family, shifted from a coastal fishing community to a brutal mountain location. But Bin’s wounds run deeper. He is also grieving the recent death of his beloved wife, Lena, and nursing a long-held estrangement from his father who, during camp life, gave young Bin away to their educated, childless neighbor. Now Bin—an artist obsessed with rivers—embarks on a long, lonely road trip across Canada accompanied by his dog, his music and his memories, possibly to visit his elderly father. Itani deftly braids the various timelines, but even the late promise of forgiveness scarcely mutes the darkness of the underlying themes: racism, rejection, the legacy of national and personal pain.
Although the plotting and conclusion are simple, this is an undeniably respectful and moving homage to a shameful factual episode.