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.
To begin with, I loved the set up of this story. I would describe it almost as a collection of short stories that come together to illustrate a definite point (or message): that in the end, we as people, are all in this—the battle of life, the uncertainty of life, the struggle of life—however it can be described, together.
The story primarily followed that of the young school age girls, Fumi and Aya, as they learned to navigate and understand the world of Japan in the post WWII era. I loved seeing the different viewpoints of life from the two girls, who had very different early life experiences and backgrounds—Fumi, coming from a traditional prewar Japan society, and Aya, coming from a Canadian society as a Japanese immigrant.
As the two girls’ friendship grew through a common mission to help find Fumi’s older sister, their early life experiences became a roadblock at times as much as it eventually became a source of understanding and growth.
The search for Fumi’s sister eventually tied in the other stories of Matt, the Japanese American solider and Kondo, Fumi’s and Aya’s school teacher. Seeing these characters motivation to want to help, and at the same time, find meaning and make sense of a world broken by war, left me with thoughts of what it truly means to be human, to relate to one another, and ultimately love one another.
The only weakness I saw was there were areas where things seemed to drag a little. I feel the author spent a little too much time on things that really didn’t have much significance in the story, such as the scene when Fumi met the young teen girl. Perhaps the author wanted to further illustrate things that were going on in the post war era, but I felt she had made a lot of things clear early on.
I would recommend this story to those who are not only interested in historical fiction, but cultural fiction. I learned a lot about life in Japan after WWII, especially in terms of culture shifts and values. Also to those are drawn to somewhat emotional stories focused on the human condition.
4 out of 5 stars. The story was beautifully written, in that, the author was effective in illustrating the world of Japan after the war, from the look and feel, to even the atmosphere. As I read, I could feel the culture changing and the frustration of having to assimilate. I could also feel the loss of a time gone by and the fight to hold on to whatever meaning was left. Other than a few slow points, it was a moving read.