Q&A: Lynne Kutsukake | Debut Spotlight, May 15, 2016

Lynne Kutsukake is a former academic librarian who lives in Toronto. Her stunning first novel, The Translation of Love , examines life in postwar Japan under American occupation.

Photo © Edmond Lee

Lynne Kutsukake is a former academic librarian who lives in Toronto. Her stunning first novel, The Translation of Love (LJ 3/1/16), examines life in postwar Japan under American occupation. What inspired you to write this novel? I’ve always been interested in Japan and was a Japanese studies librarian. I learned that when Gen. Douglas ­MacArthur was in charge of the country’s occupation at the end of World War II, he received 500,000 letters from the Japanese—the people just conquered. I found the book Dear General MacArthur by Rinjiro Sodei, which shows the range of correspondence—letters of adoration, missives denouncing him, requests for both reform and advice. Not many people know about these documents. What kind of person would write to MacArthur? What if she was a 12-year-old girl? That’s when I got started. Why do you feel that there was such praise for MacArthur in Japan? The majority of the people were just so thankful that the war was over. This was an opportunity for change after living under a fascist government, and they saw MacArthur as a kind of hero. There’s a photograph that was taken at the beginning of the occupation, when MacArthur met with Emperor Hirohito in which the two are standing side by side. The picture was published in the Japanese newspapers, and it sent a message that America was in charge. What was your research process like?translationoflove.jpg51616 I did quite a bit of research. Some of it included material I’d already read out of personal interest—things about the occupation period of Japanese history, what happened during the war, the internment, and so forth. I read John W. Dower’s Embracing Defeat, which is probably the best book about post–World War II Japan. I also read biographies of MacArthur.

Did you always plan for the story to be told from multiple points of view? I didn’t really have an overarching plan from beginning to end. When I began the work, I didn’t think I would create a novel. Because I was writing short stories before this project, the idea of a novel was daunting. I was writing from scene to scene, and new characters would come into the story and I’d craft a narrative from their perspective. Once I had the character of 12-year-old Fumi, I decided that she needed a friend—that companion would be Aya, a Japanese Canadian girl who had been repatriated to Japan after the war. The idea was that Fumi wants desperately to write this [letter to MacArthur] and thinks that it should be in English, so she asks Aya for help. More and more I ended up with multiple viewpoints. I guess it was mostly serendipity than a plan.

What do you consider the book’s theme? I really wanted to write about people in Japan, but also Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians—groups who are in that kind of intermediate space. I like the idea of people in an environment, where part of them is going one way and the other part is going another way. They have to navigate where they are and also negotiate with others who look at them and can’t distinguish their identity. Are you American? Are you Japanese? That is my personal background, too. How did Canada’s actions during World War II affect Japanese Canadians and your own family? [After the war,] Japanese Canadians were not allowed to return within 100 miles of Canada’s west coast. Politicians in British Columbia were determined to push out the Japanese. Before the war, there was a very vibrant Japanese community in downtown Vancouver and in smaller towns—many of them were involved in fishing or lumber. The Japanese Canadians were given an ultimatum: they could stay in Canada but move east of the Rocky Mountains and disperse, which psychologically had a terrible impact. The alternative was to repatriate or be deported to Japan. I am third-generation Japanese Canadian, and my family was interned before I was born. I learned a lot through the Redress Movement, which spawned an abundance of writing about what happened during the war. What books or authors do you enjoy reading? One of my favorite writers is Jhumpa Lahiri. Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is fabulous, and I just finished Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton and was very impressed. I like contemporary literary fiction, but I am also mindful that there are many classics I need to read. I also enjoy Asian American literature. I keep an eye out for new writers and try to stay up-to-date with them because there’s always a slightly different outlook presented.—­Catherine Coyne, Mansfield P.L., MA
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Dear Ms. Kutsukake: Very excited John Batchelor's interview with you tonight. We'd like to purchase a Japanese version and English version. Unfortunately, we can only find English version sold on Internet. Thank you for bringing honor and respect to the Japanese people here, In Canada and Japan. Your parents would be very proud of you. Thanks for taking time to read this and considering a source where we can order the book in Japanese. Very respectfully, David Olsen

Posted : Jul 10, 2016 08:26



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