Against the backdrop of occupied Tokyo, a young girl searches for her missing older sister, who has disappeared into the world of bars and dance halls. In the process, her story will become intertwined with those of others trying to make sense of their lives in a post-war world: a thirteen-year-old Japanese Canadian “repat,” a school teacher who translates love letters from American GIs, and a Japanese-American soldier serving with the Occupation forces. An emotionally gripping portrait of a battered nation, The Translation of Love mines this turbulent period to show how war irrevocably shapes the lives of people on both sides—and how resilience, friendship, and love translate across cultures and borders no matter the circumstances.
Winner of the Canada-Japan Literary Award
Kutsukake's moving debut novel focuses on the intertwining stories of several protagonists in post World War II Tokyo. Matt, a Japanese-American military man, and Kondo, a middle-school teacher with considerable language skills, both ply their trade by translating letters: Matt for General MacArthur, who has invited the Japanese people to mail him their thoughts, and Kondo on the black market, where he works weekends writing letters for lovelorn women to their G.I. boyfriends. Twelve-year-old Fumi, one of Kondo's students, finds herself befriending the shunned Aya Shimamura, who was sent to live in Japan after internment with her father in a Canadian camp. Aya's mother had committed suicide by drowning, and Aya keeps the stones that had been found weighing down her pockets. Fumi is desperate to find her older sister, Sumiko, who left the family to work as a bar girl in order to provide food and medicine for them. With Aya's strong command of English, Fumi writes to MacArthur to ask him for help with locating Sumiko and bringing her home. The characters further intersect when Fumi asks Matt for help getting the letter to MacArthur. Kutsukake's story is consistently engaging, though a smattering of unlikely plot points can be distracting. The result is a memorable story of hope and loneliness with a cathartic ending.