Forgiveness:  A Gift From My Grandparents

Forgiveness: A Gift From My Grandparents

Book - 2014
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Finalist for CBC Canada Reads

Finalist for the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction and the OLA Evergreen Award

#1 National Bestseller

When the Second World War broke out, Ralph MacLean chose to escape his troubled life on the Magdalen Islands in eastern Canada and volunteer to serve his country overseas. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Mitsue Sakamoto saw her family and her stable community torn apart after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Like many young Canadian soldiers, Ralph was captured by the Japanese army. He would spend the war in prison camps, enduring pestilence, beatings and starvation, as well as a journey by hell ship to Japan to perform slave labour, while around him his friends and countrymen perished. Back in Canada, Mitsue and her family were expelled from their home by the government and forced to spend years eking out an existence in rural Alberta, working other people's land for a dollar a day.

By the end of the war, Ralph emerged broken but a survivor. Mitsue, worn down by years of back-breaking labour, had to start all over again in Medicine Hat, Alberta. A generation later, at a high school dance, Ralph's daughter and Mitsue's son fell in love.

Although the war toyed with Ralph's and Mitsue's lives and threatened to erase their humanity, these two brave individuals somehow surmounted enormous transgressions and learned to forgive. Without this forgiveness, their grandson Mark Sakamoto would never have come to be.

Publisher: Toronto, Ont. : HarperCollinsPublishersLtd., c2014
ISBN: 9781443417983
Branch Call Number: 940.54727 SAK
Characteristics: 245 p. :,ill. ;,24 cm.


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Mar 18, 2018

This title is catalogued at my library with the WWII history books, no doubt because a section of the story describes the experiences of a Canadian prisoner of war who survives horrific conditions in a Hong Kong prison camp, and later as slave labor in Osaka. But this is not the whole story.

There is no competition between the various horrors endured by Canadian citizens robbed of their homes and businesses, forced into working dirt farms in rural Alberta, and the desperate captivity of a family witnessing a loved one be destroyed by alcoholism. Pain is pain, and there is no need to rank one as worse than another. That so many survive these troubles and emerge as healthy adults is a miracle and a testament to the power of forgiveness and love.

What saddened and surprised me is how ignorant I was about the crimes committed against Canadian citizens. Despite growing up in Vancouver, I had no idea what had been done to the people with Japanese ancestry during the war years. As we continue live in a society bitterly divided by racism, it shouldn't have been a surprise, but the details were new to me. I'm glad to have finally read this slice of history.

Feb 04, 2018

This book is difficult to define. Upon starting out, I thought it was a political commentary about the idiocy of war and how everyone involved on both sides lost. I thought he did a phenomenal job of showing that the harshest treatment of the Japanese prisoners of war in Hong Kong (Grandfather MacLean's part of the story) was comparable to the losses felt by Grandma Mitsue and her family undergoing prisoner-of-war conditions in Canada (the Sakamoto side of the story). Both the Sakamoto's and MacLean's showed grace in how they handled the awful, unfairness of the war and how they got on with their lives without bitterness. Then somewhere about page 203, it became about family, family dynamics, what we owe family, and Mark's guilt as the oldest son in a Japanese family, who is supposed to ensure that his family stays strong and cohesive. I thought that this book has a lot of heart, and is populated by kind, ethical people. I took away the message that no matter how hard you try, sometimes things just don't work out as you expect, but you can still grab the goodness that is there. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

BPLpicks Jan 30, 2018

Place your hold and watch Jeanne Becker defend this book at the Canada Reads debates held March 26-29.

Whoever edited this book deserves a demotion or a dismissal. The prose style is mostly fine and often quite wonderful but it is also quite inconsistent with some very abrupt and oddly-placed sentences. And it reads a bit rough in places. I did enjoy Sakamoto's attention to detail in the WWII-era stories. I cared for those people and felt for them. There were many injustices all around but I felt there were far too many leaps and gaps in the narrative. The vignettes were fine but their arrangement could have been much better to weave a better, more coherent narrative. The editor failed on that front. Similarly, I didn't much care about the people in the latter portion of the book. The connections between the people and timelines was almost incidental. There is a distinct absence of threads between characters and timelines. Other characters we come to know and care for early on are all but abandoned. We needed more stories here. We needed better narrative cohesion.

However, where this book really got under my skin was in its shoddy editing. I'm an editor and a typo here or there is bad enough (such as the "Unties States") but over and over again Sakamoto gets historical facts wrong, badly wrong, which a good editor should have caught and fixed. For example, he talks about taking a boat from Pictou, PEI. Impossible, Pictou is in Nova Scotia. He talks about Japan restricting the number of passports issued to Canada. That's not how passports work. I think he's talking about visas. In a scene in post-war BC, he talks of nationalistic hysteria by people wrapping themselves up in the "Canadian flag" which is impossible, the Canadian flag did not exist until 1965. And, he gets facts wrong - basic, common facts - of the one of the two atomic bombings of Japan. He states Nagasaki got hit at 3 o'clock in the morning when, in fact, it was hit second just after 8 o'clock in the morning. How in hell can you get that so wrong? How could that not be corrected? It's an important point of historical accuracy.

While some readers may not care over these details, it left me wondering what else did Sakamoto get wrong? Was he careless? Was he writing creative fiction or alternate history? I thought this was supposed to be a true story. I started to doubt everything he wrote and that is absolutely the wrong thing a writer of a historic memoir wants to instill in the reader. In the end, I was vastly disappointed. This should have been so much better and fuller.

I read this as part of the CBC Canada Reads 2018 longlist.

JudeLee Oct 10, 2016

I was very emotional at the way Mark's mother spiralled downward at the end of her life. This description was so vivid. I could visualize it. The birth of the baby was so emotional. I could relate to a difficult delivery (aren't they all difficult), but I could not relate to Mark's reaction and support. It was so heartwarming and real. Despite the dysfunction of his childhood, he was a real man to his wife, supporting her. Overall, a very good read.

Aug 29, 2015

I looked forward to reading this book, but was disappointed because reads like a personal journal, citing memory after memory, rather than developing the complexity of the promise of forgiveness. It appears to have been a cathartic process for the author to get his thoughts and feelings into a book, but the work suffers for lack of a mature and carefully researched perspective. There is much personal opinion and some local knowledge inaccuracies in the book. It is odd to read about the thoughts and feelings of the people in the book as though the author was present at every event and reading their minds.

May 22, 2015

This was a little gem that ended up being so much more that what I expected of it. I would recommend this to anyone. It is highly informative and incredibly inspiring, all while being very readable.

May 04, 2015

Sakamoto eloquently describes the wartime experiences of two Canadians, his paternal grandmother Mitsui and his maternal grandfather Ralph. The disenfranchisement of Japanese Canadians based on ethnicity was racism as unacceptable as the Nazi treatment of Jews in Europe. But the brutality of the Japanese army against Canadian prisoners of war captured in China, then enslaved in Japanese factories, was even more horrific.

Sakamoto describes how his grandparents were able to move on after the war and forgive their transgressors.

But what he fails to show us was how these scars affected their own children. his parents. I found the uneven treatment of Sakamoto's parents a big hole in the tale that left me often confused. Just who forgave whom for what was not made wholly clear to me.

ksoles Jul 24, 2014

An old soldier survives the brutality of a Japanese POW camp after the fall of Hong Kong. The Japanese roots of a young Canadian bride force her from her B.C. home. An author deals with his mother's descent into alcoholism and poverty while drawing strength and the power to forgive from his grandparents. Though seemingly disparate stories, all three morph into one in Torontonian Mark Sakamoto's "Forgiveness." A moving, harrowing and engaging book, it began as an essay and unfortunately reads like a hybrid, never totalling more than its parts.

In the first section, Sakamoto's grandfather, Ralph McLean, receives quick and ineffective training from the Canadian army before being sent to defend the indefensible Hong Kong. Through powerful writing, Sakamoto details the savagery shown by the Japanese post-takeover and describes the slow death that many faced by starvation and horrendous working/living conditions. The second story tells of Sakamoto's grandmother, Mitsue, a young dressmaker and Canadian citizen. Citizen or not, fear, racism and jealousy see her and her family interned to Alberta to work in the sugar beet fields.

Finally, Sakamoto recounts his own childhood in Medicine Hat and lovingly relates his grandparents' acceptance and love for each other. However, the bridges built by his grandparents read in awkward contrast to his own attempt to forgive his mother for paving her ultimately self-destructive path.

Sakamoto has penned a powerful memoir, which comes without preaching, warning or lesson teaching. He shows that victory lies in moving on, in refusing to be defined by injurious years and in living life in the present.

Jun 27, 2014

What an incredibly interesting and thought provoking book.

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