Through an elegant web of interconnected storylines, Kutsukake's absorbing debut brings American-occupied postwar Tokyo to life.
It's 1946, and after spending the war in a Canadian internment camp, 13-year-old Aya Shimamura and her father have "repatriated" to Japan under governmental duress. Struggling to survive in an unfamiliar city still ravaged by the war, Aya's emotionally distant father works constantly, leaving Aya to navigate her new world alone. At school, she's an outcast, the hunched-over foreigner who barely speaks Japanese, and when kindly Kondo Sensei assigns her classmate Fumi to look after her, the relationship gets off to a predictably disastrous start—the last thing Fumi wants is to be weighed down by a repat who can hardly talk. But it doesn’t take long before the two develop a tenuous friendship: quiet Aya may be a social liability, but she speaks fluent English, and Fumi—a bossy firecracker—needs help. Fumi’s beloved older sister has gone missing, and the desperate girl has decided the only solution is to write a letter to Gen. MacArthur imploring him to find her. She’s not the only one: legions of Japanese citizens are pinning their hopes on MacArthur, flooding his General Headquarters with letters about anything and everything—land reform, missing family members, birthday wishes, the cost of soy sauce. Capturing the whirling desperation and energy of a city in flux, the story moves from MacArthur’s offices, where Japanese-American soldier Yoshitaka “Matt” Matsumoto spends his days translating the general’s mail, to the seedy dance halls of the Ginza to Love Letter Alley, where rows of translators cater to the Japanese women carrying on trans-Pacific correspondences with their American GIs. Emotionally rich without turning saccharine, twisting without losing its grounding in reality, Kutsukake's novel is classic historical fiction at its best.
A vivid delight chronicling a fascinating—and little-discussed—chapter in world history.