After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara

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“Everyone, perhaps, had these faint, staticky shadow selves following them around, like degraded clones. Yourself, but not yourself. Things you’d done, but couldn’t believe you’d done, would never acknowledge. Parts of yourself you couldn’t bear to own.”

It is summer in 1980s Toronto when Lily Takemitsu vanishes. Her daughter Rita is familar with her mother’s wanderings but never have her absences lasted this long. When she decides to find out what happened to her mother, as the police aren’t taking it seriously, she ends up excavating her family’s secrets from their time spent interned at a Camp in California during World War II. Her father is an unknown, a question mark that forever hovers over her life, a wide gap. Her mother never seems to tell things straight and certainly glosses over any memories of the internment camp. It isn’t long before Rita begins to understand why her mother wants to forget and how her mind has lasting damage.

The story follows Lily from past to present, at a tender age she falls stupidly in love as any 18 year old might. Normally the consequences aren’t as dire for the rest of us, we get burned in young love and move on. But blindly loving a ‘bad seed’ during dangerous times when your own country has imprisoned you can set a young woman on a path of destruction. Guilt is a rotten shadow to follow you the rest of your life. It touches Rita long after her mother has left the camp, poisoning her mother’s future. It’s hard to understand for those of us that have never lived through these experiences. It’s interesting to me that children today don’t even realize Japanese Americans were sent to camps, that they lost businesses, homes… it isn’t often something shouted from a mountaintop in the way other unconscionable events in history are. Much of that reason is Japanese culture itself, which I learned so much more about living in Okinawa for 3 years. They don’t spend much time complaining, it isn’t done in their culture, but don’t forget they were denied basic rights, rounded up and sent to live in military style barracks. Imagine that today, regardless of where you come from, you are an American citizen and you are taken from your community, your home, losing your successful businesses or careers all because you are the ethnicity that is now the enemy. Much of what I learned was outside of school, I remember this moment in history was glossed over during my early years. The paranoia remains, people still afraid to speak about reparations, because you never know when the tide will turn and again someone will be out to get you.

In After The Bloom, Rita starts to understand why her mother doesn’t seem to fully function. Full of shame from that time, actions taken in her fiery youth, her heart’s confusion she keeps so much of herself hidden. Denial has become her coping mechanism, but the gaps in her mind will out all the trauma of her past. That Lily’s new husband doesn’t really know Lily, or that she was once interned at a camp in the USA speaks volumes of her denial. She hasn’t been the best mother, but in closing herself off has been her way of existing sadly it has clouded Rita’s own mothering skills. War is a beast, not just for those fighting battles but for generations long after it’s end. For some it is a silence, a gaping hole in the family’s history. There is a zone  in families where no questions are asked, but much like a ghost there is a looming presence that pulsates with all things unsaid. Deep down, you know there is something huge missing but you don’t know what it is, it’s simply felt in the silence.

Rita  was in the dark ‘not knowing’ as much as her mother was in the dark full of knowledge. That Lily disconnected from her truth may well be the reason her memory is flawed. Don’t come into this novel expecting happily ever after where ‘EUREKA’ now everything is out and mommy is fixed. When Rita’s father becomes a person with each uncovering, what does it change for Rita? What does understanding finally mean for the absence in her life?  Lily’s life is heartbreaking, we can only understand such an existence on the periphery and it’s the same for her daughter. But I dare anyone to think they would make wiser decisions in Lily’s shoes. What I always try to do when reading novels of this sort is imagine myself at 18, in the same situation older now I realize it’s easy to speak from wisdom but at 18 with that dreamy naivete I imagine I’d be just a stupid with love, blinded and trusting in the wrong things.

Lily’s family is a dysfunctional mess before everything that comes to pass, and it is disturbing. This is a sad tale that is about more than just transgressions against Japanese Americans, it is also about how we wrong our families, and ourselves with consequences that can last for generations.

Publication Date: May 9, 2017

Dundurn

 

 

 

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