A mother’s traumas haunt her twin daughters, whose own intricate relationship further complicates an intense psychodrama.
What begins as a thriller—who tried to strangle Hana Swanson’s identical twin sister, Kei, found unconscious in the shower?—morphs rapidly into something far more melancholy and introspective in Rizzuto’s (Hiroshima in the Morning, 2010, etc.) second novel. Narrated in multiple voices, it explores the sisters’ contrasting identities and responses to their mother Lillie’s experience as a Japanese-American during and after World War II. Lillie, an orphan, marries Donald, the son of Japanese immigrants, soon after the U.S. is attacked at Pearl Harbor. Soon, Lillie and her new family are relocated to Manzanar, a harsh internment camp, where she gives birth to a son, Toshi. Then, after Donald refuses to foreswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor, his father manages to get the family passage on a Swedish ship heading for Japan. The family settles in Hiroshima, where history will catch up with them. Lillie is a poisoned survivor of the atomic bomb, while Donald and Toshi disappear. Resettled in Hawaii after the war, Lillie gives birth to Hana and Kei, the good twin and the rebellious one, who sometimes swap identities or merge into a single personality, Koko, or can even seem to contain their lost brother, “two souls battling for the same body.” Rizzuto’s blurring of the twins’ identities is perhaps the most interesting aspect of her relentlessly dark saga of loss, fear, guilt, alienation, and scarring (both physical and psychological). Hana’s narration predominates, a broken account of an unhappy childhood leading to a withdrawn adulthood. Crises, revelations, and corrected misunderstandings fill the final chapters, offering some clarity but not much cheer.
A long and winding fusion of sorrow and psychological processing.