Bin Okuma, a celebrated visual artist, has recently and quite suddenly lost his wife, Lena. He and his son Greg are left to deal with the shock. But Greg has returned to his studies on the east coast, and Bin finds himself alone. His deep grief draws him into memories he has avoided for much of his life: the uprooting of his Japanese Canadian family from the west coast of British Columbia during the Second World War. Now, he sets out to drive across the country, to revisit the places that have shaped him, to find his First Father who has been lost to him. Years ago, his father made a fateful decision that severed the bonds of his family. Running from grief, Bin must ask himself whether he really wants to find his father or whether his bitterness will separate them forever.
Requiem is a stunning and graceful novel, a story of family secrets, racial strife, birth and death, and the saving grace of art.
In a narrative that alternates between past and present, Canadian author Itani, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Deafening, examines the internment of Japanese Canadian citizens during WWII and its impact on one family. In 1997, artist Binosuke Okuma drives from Montreal to the site of the camp on the Fraser River where his family has been interned when Bin was very young, and where his father made a decision that would cut him off from his family--and permit him to fulfill his potential as an artist. But at first memories of Bin's wife, Lena, who died of a stroke, chase him. Accompanied by his dog, Basil, and armed with tapes of Beethoven and a bottle of whiskey, Bin grapples with the anger and silence that swathe his experience of internment and separation which his wife had urged him to address. After learning that his aging father sits in a chair facing the door, waiting for Bin's arrival not far from the location of the Fraser River camp, Bin must decide if he can return to the father who altered his fate, allowing him, he hopes, to keep going, as a son, an artist, a widower, and as a father himself who had built his own family far away from the broken histories buried at the camps. This sparse and melancholy meditation on family, history, and the healing properties of art addresses a little-known chapter in Canada's history, though Itani fails to bring those events and his characters fully to life.
A beautiful book
Some parts of the book were difficult to read and made me ashamed that my country could have done this to a group of people, but also parts of it made me cry tears of joy. It is so well written and the story is wonderful. I had the privilege of hearing her talk about this book at Word on the Street in Toronto in 2011 so I did start this book with some expectations but I did not expect to be carried away by the story the way I was. A book that I would recommend to everyone.