“Yasu was simply crazy. But no crazier than the rest of the war.”
Rui Umezawa’s first novel weaves in and out of the lives of three generations of the Hayakawa family, starting during World War II in Japan and ending in present-day Toronto. The story is tragic, hilarious, lyrical and universal, tracing the legacy of war and the past on one family’s fortunes and memories. Film director Atom Egoyan says: “This ambitious debut creates a dense world of overlapping events -- from the smallest details of domestic life to the grandest scale of atrocity and horror. Rui Umezawa presents this unique world of cause and effect with a carefully harnessed sense of despair, yearning and beauty.”
Maimed physically and emotionally, Shoji Hayakawa leaves the devastation of post-war Japan and moves to the University of Milwaukee to teach physics. His father, Yasujiro, was the doctor in the village of Kitagawa, and an outspoken pacifist in dangerous times. Shoji and his wife Mitsuyo still recall their wartime childhood: bartering for food, evacuation to the countryside, returning to the burnt remains of the cities. Transplanted into suburban America, Mitsuyo’s mother will watch life through the windows, marvelling at how absurdly people act even when they have everything they need: food, water, clothes, and no bombs.
Shoji has two sons, Toshi and Kei. Toshi is a gentle boy but sees the world with an abnormal intensity. Objects seem to speak to him. He has to lock himself in a closet to concentrate on his homework, and lies face down in the school corridor with his forehead pressed against the cool linoleum to calm himself. Exuberant but noisy, he is stopped from taking piano lessons. He is an embarrassment to his mother and to his angry brother Kei, who leaves for Canada to build a career as a rock musician. Mitsuyo, so demanding of Kei, considers Toshi insane and never expects anything of him. Yet Toshi, full of imagination, finds humour and wonder in the world.Quill and Quire
called The Truth About Death and Dying
an extraordinary first novel that “falls somewhere between Thomas Wolfe and Monty Python.” The absurd sense of humour, the unforgettably comic scenes -- such as Yasu emerging naked from the bathroom clutching mushrooms, or dancing in the bomb shelter -- are inextricably entwined with tragic memories. With the dark shadows of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as Pearl Harbor always present, this novel examines how our sense of what is normal and what is crazy can be skewed, especially in times of war.
Of the passages that take place in wartime Japan, the author says they “owe most of their details to what was told to me by my parents, and to Japanese movies and comic books set during World War II. I grew up with stories of the war and pacifism, both at home and in the Japanese media. My father was never conscripted to fight, because he excelled so much at science and the government felt he would be more useful in a lab than on a battlefield…. My father would often recount, however, having to run and take shelter from bombs while going to university in Nagoya. For the rest of his life, he refused to watch war movies, because the whistling sound of bombs falling frightened him terribly.”
“When I think about Japan in relation to the Second World War, more often then not, I’m remembering people who were treated like animals in Japanese POW camps. Or the Chinese who suffered tremendously at the hands of the Japanese military in places like Nanjing or Manchuria…. However, one of the things I think the book illustrates is this: Japanese wartime atrocities were unforgivable, but at the same time, Japanese civilians like my father were suffering too.”From the Hardcover edition.