Readers who like historical fiction might enjoy Lynne Kutsukake’s The Translation of Love. It’s a historical novel about life in post-war Japan following WWII. The novel focuses on a twelve-year old girl named Fumi who is trying to find her sister Sumiko, who has left home to become a hostess for American GI’s. Along with her friend Aya, a repatriated Japanese girl from the U.S., she writes a letter to General MacArthur in hopes that he will help her. Along the way, we meet several other interesting characters: Kondo, the girls’ homeroom teacher who moonlights as a translator; Matt and Nancy, two military translators who are Americans of Japanese descent; and Sumiko, the missing sister who is trying to make a living and support her family as best she can.
It’s an interesting book that goes back to an era and place that I hadn’t seen. I didn’t realize the extent to which MacArthur’s presence loomed over the Japanese, nor did I know of the history of letter-writing that took place at the time. It’s fascinating. The characters in this novel took a backseat to the historical circumstances of the time. It was less a story of Fumi and Aya, and more a story about the poverty and desperation after the war. Usually I’m not a fan of history-first novels, but in this case, I thought it worked very well.
As a volunteer translator (of Japanese and English) at my kids’ school, part of me thought that it would’ve been interesting to hear Matt or Nancy’s ideas on how language and culture affect how people think and act. That itself would have been a fascinating discussion, although I also think that would have been incredibly hard to portray.