Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

“Forgiveness is moving on. It is a daily act that looks forward. Forgiveness smiles.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 210 pages.
Read from February 20, 2018 to February 27, 2018.

This was the one book in the 2018 Canada Reads that I was most excited for. While the book started slow I was absolutely captivated by the brutal history of this family and was soon not able to put it down.

Sakamoto’s family has a rich, tragic and courageous history. His grandfather on his mother’s side, a white-Canadian from the east coast, joined the war efforts in WWII where he was captured in Hong Kong by the Japanese. He lived and suffered intensely for four years in POW camp. His grandmother, on his father’s side, is a Japanese-born Canadian. Sakamoto details the horrifying things that the Canadian government did to his grandmother’s family and the Japanese living in Canada during WWII, especially after the Pearl Harbour bombing. This is a part of history that most Canadians know little about or the brutality of what we did to our own people. I know I sure didn’t and it really opened my eyes. Canada is often viewed as an untainted and tolerant place to live but our own history is just as stained as others. Additionally, I imagine very few Canadians know of the regiments that served out in Hong Kong and the losing battle that they had to endure.

The book continues through Sakamoto’s family saga and the remarkable ability for his grandparents to forgive was a constant foundation in his life. Can you imagine when Sakamoto’s parents wanted to marry how that might have felt to their own parents? Each had suffered so much from each other’s different ethnicities and tet their powerful understanding, shared suffering, and ability to move forward is nothing short of courageous. Sakamoto also details the difficult upbringing he had with his alcoholic mother and how that shaped his future ambitions and responsibilities.

Mitsue Sakamoto, the author’s grandmother, Phyllis MacLean the author’s mother, Ralph MacLean, the author’s grandfather and Stan Sakamoto the author’s father in Medicine Hat Alberta in 1968. Source: The Daily Mail

Sakamoto’s story is highly emotional and I would be lying if I did not say I welled up in few parts.  The suffering and tenacity of his grandparents and even the death of his mother were hard to bear as a reader. Sakamoto really drew into some great emotional depth with his story-telling. The added pictures in the book were also a great touch as it really felt like you knew his family.

While I ended up loving this book, I did not start off feeling that way. The book had a slow start for me as I was initially unsure as to where this story or memoir was going. I found some of the initial story transitions to be a bit clunky, though once his grandfather set off for the war things smoothed out and the main theme of the story was starting to finally come together.  While I enjoyed the story of his upbringing and the suffering endured by him and his mother with her alcoholism it was a massive shift in the direction of the book. The book was now reading more like an autobiography. This disjointing and lack of connection from his grandparent’s story to his own story was not as successful as the rest of the emotionally enticing parts about his grandparents. While his own story is moving in its own right, the novel just did not feel like a complete whole on the theme of forgiveness.  Even with that,  I decided on a 4-star review instead of 3 for this book because of how the book made me feel and for how intently I could not stop reading certain portions.

As I currently live in Hong Kong, I found the parts of his grandfather’s time there especially interesting.  However, Sakamoto mentioned that Kowloon is part of the New Territories and part of mainland China, which isn’t correct. Kowloon is a part of Hong Kong and is its own district.  Since 1997, China has since reclaimed Hong Kong but it is technically still its own country and many locals would not be happy being referred to as mainland China! It was wonderful envisioning these areas that I know well and what they would have been like during the war.  As a Canadian, it was also intriguing to read about a battle that took place during WWII that I imagine many Canadians don’t know about. There are some historical museums and treks in Hong Kong that I am now anxious to partake in.

So far, I have read 3 out of the 5 books in the 2018 Canada Reads. Compared to The Marrow Thieves and Precious Cargo, this novel is definitely one to “open your eyes” as the horrors of the Canadian government during WWII and the part that those Canadian regiments played out in Hong Kong are remarkable and need to be known. The content of this novel is truly jaw-dropping and extremely relevant in the context of today’s racial issues and learning from our own past. As it stands, this novel best meets the criteria for the debate in my opinion but what will the final two books hold? We will soon find out…

Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

There are parts of this story that hard to believe. How much, if any, was embellished?

“I told myself, ‘All I want is a normal life’. But was that true? I wasn’t so sure.

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 315 pages.
Read from October 9, 2017 to October 12, 2017.

As a species, we have always been curious about tragedy, in that when something bad happens we can’t look away, like a terrible car wreck. This book is the terrible car wreck of Augusten’s childhood and as readers, we are utterly absorbed and shocked at the wreck and mess that follows. I know this book is supposed to be somewhat humorous as that is one way the author has found a way to deal with the failings in his upbringing but I, for one, found nothing about this to be humorous.

Actual footage of me reading this book.

Augusten’s young life started off dysfunctional but still somewhat normal. His mother was always dramatic and his father reclusive but they were a family.

“My mother began to go crazy. Not in a ‘Let’s paint the kitchen red!’ sort of way. But crazy in a ‘gas oven, toothpaste sandwich, I am God’ sort of way.”

Shortly thereafter his father abandons him and so Augusten is left with his spiralling mentally ill mother. Augusten starts off as a very neat and tidy boy with a flair for fashion and often finds his mother’s antics and resulting behaviours distressing, even at such a young age.  Deidre, Augusten’s mother, has a love for poetry, feminism and the dramatic and when it is compounded with whatever illness she is battling makes for a troubling situation for Augusten. Deidre begins to see Doctor Finch as a form of therapy for herself. While the doctor is legitimate his methods are not and Augusten soon finds himself apart of these strange therapy sessions and even begins to know the doctor and his family on a personal level. Then, a few years into the sessions, Deidre, after reclaiming her sexuality as a gay woman, decides that the best decision for the two of them is if Augusten is adopted and forced to live with the doctor and his messy and peculiar family. From this point in the story onwards, you are going to count your blessings for your own dysfunctional family.

From find the word of God within bowel movements to underage gay sex with a paedophile and having the free reign to do whatever he pleases Augusten’s time with this family is beyond quirky. There are parts of this story that hard to believe.  I mean the author’s real name is actually Chris Robison and the truth of this novel came into question after its publication and immediate popularity.  How much did Chris elaborate and how much did his memory fail in regards to his time with the Finches? There was a call to remove the non-fiction and memoir tag from the book but at the time it was already too wildly popular to change.

From depictions of his mother to the doctor and his family have been called into question with the depictions that Chris lays out in his book. His mother even wrote her own book so that she could tell her own story in response this book. The real name of the Finch family is the Turcottes and the children of the family have since sued the author for the false allegations that this book made about them.  Theresa, or Natalie as she is referred to in the book, remembers Chris’ obsession with fame when he was younger and was shocked with the “categorically false” and “wildly embellished” story that he put together. Chris has stood by his story and his memories:

“This is my story. It’s not my mother’s story and it’s not the family’s story, and they may remember things differently and they may choose to not remember certain things, but I will never forget what happened to me, ever, and I have the scars from it and I wanted to rip those scars off of me.”

I am thankful that I did not know about these allegations before reading the book as it allowed me to read the novel without prejudice. I enjoyed the quirky story, even if it isn’t true or strongly embellished but deep down a part of my hopes that it isn’t true because the events in this story are truly shocking.

I will stick with my 4-star rating on this book because I did still enjoy it despite just recently reading about the controversy surrounding it. Overall the novel is an easy read with mediocre writing but with a story that makes you unable to look away, like a car wreck, and won’t let go. I would encourage readers to approach the book with a grain of salt and just enjoy the insanity of the plot. I think that the those who enjoy memoirs and quirky and dark stories with a dash of humour will enjoy this novel.



What I Talk About When I Talk About Running By Haruki Murakami

3/5 stars.
Read from March 10 to 14, 2016.
ebook, 180 pages.

This was a peculiar book but I suppose it wouldn’t be true to Murakami’s style if it wasn’t a bit odd. What does make this book remarkable is how modest and accomplished Murakami is, and I’m not just saying that because I enjoy his novels.

While this book is the closest thing to memoir on Murakami’s life, it’s more of a reminiscence of his life and the decisions he made in terms of writing and how much of an impact running and fitness has played in his lifestyle and his success. Saying that Murakami is ambitious is a bit of understatement. The man has some solid resolve when it comes to his decisions. He opened up a jazz bar at a very young age an put all of his money and time into making it successful. While running this jazz bar he started writing. He published his first novel while still running the bar but was not satisfied. Murakami knew, like he did with his bar, that if he wanted to be successful at the writing he needed to give it his full attention and commitment.  Despite everyone he knew thinking he was absolutely mad, Murakami closed his jazz bar and set off to write full time. From there Murakami made the most of his flexible schedule and began to start running. He reflects on how running has helped his writing process and success and details the struggles and failures of racing.

While I could never claim to be anywhere near as resilient or ambitious as Murakami, I felt that if I met the man, we would get a long. We have similar introverted qualities and run for the same reasons. He would describe certain situations about writing or people and I found myself thinking, “that’s me, that’s how I feel too”. It was a wonderful feeling to have this connection with Murakami and it perhaps explains why I enjoy his novels so much.

What made this book peculiar, is that it reads as if Murakami is having a casual conversation with you. It’s as if, the two of you sat down for coffee after going for a run, and you just happen ask him how he started running and writing. It’s a very welcoming read in that sense but the first section feels a bit strange as you adjust and immerse yourself in the style.His modesty with his racing accomplishments and dedication to writing contribute to this style.

While I don’t think Murakami intended this book to be inspirational, it most definitely is. Murakami gave 100% in whatever he chose to do, whether writing or running, and it has paid off for him. Many people don’t understand how challenging something like that can be. For example, when I started freelancing, I always felt like a fraud which held back my ability and desire to give myself fully into the profession. I didn’t commit 100%. While I found moderate success, it didn’t end up being something I could maintain full time unfortunately. However, I learned more than I can say about myself and know where my failings are for next time. I am not done with that path.

I would recommend this book to anyone aspiring to take a leap and commit to something they’ve always wanted, as well as any aspiring writers or passionate runners.