Welcome to She Said/She Said, where GGC Members are our book reviewers from across Canada, sharing their opinions about our book of the month. This month, we take a look at Requiem by Frances Itani, published by Harper Collins Canada.
Suggested GGC Rating by our book reviewers:
“Although readers younger than 18 may enjoy the book as well, Requiem is very reflective and touches on some unpleasant aspects of Canadian history, as such I think an older reader would enjoy the book more.”
She Said: Guider Kris McNaughton, Community Guider in Community 2
Overall, I enjoyed reading Frances Itani’s new novel Requiem. Itani is a talented Canadian author who received a Commonwealth Writer’s prize for her first novel, Deafening. She seems to have an innate ability to connect her readers to her main characters who are striving to better understand themselves. In Requiem, the main character is Bin Okuma. He recently lost his wife and is traveling from his home in Ottawa, back to the internment camp where he spent part of his childhood. The trip provides Bin with an outlet to come to grips with the loss of his wife, an estrangement with his father, and the anger he justly feels about the Canadian treatment of Japanese citizens during World War II.
I experienced a wide range of emotions while reading Requiem. The loss of Bin’s wife invoked a profound sense of sorrow. There were moments when I felt crushing grief over his loss and other times when I shared a cherished sweet remembrance; emotions all of us can relate to when remembering a loved one. I also felt anger and frustration when Itani painstakingly related the injustices Bin and other Japanese Canadians went through during their internment. The book touches on issues of anti-bullying, and points out how even governments can be guilty of treating people cruelly and without justification. Itani also subtly enforces the importance of building healthy relationships, there is a sharp contrast between Bin’s loving relationship with his wife, son, and Okuma-san and his relationship with his First Father.
Requiem is worth taking the time to read and enjoy. I enjoyed sharing Bin’s quest for personal answers. However, the book did leave me with several emotions I needed to work through after reading. I spent several days re-hashing the story and wondering ‘what-if’?
–By Kris. Kris enjoys the outdoors and has been active in Guiding for over 15 years.
Photo credit: Erin Keen.
She Said: TaraLee Houston
District Commissioner, Sun Ridge District, Regina, Saskatchewan
Frances Itani paints a vivid picture with beautiful imagery throughout Requiem. The main character is a Japanese Canadian painter named Bin. He struggles with his past and present, with life and death. Many scenes introduce Beethoven’s music and act as a reference to Bin’s memories and emotions. The author’s words flow so melodically to describe Bin’s past and present that you can almost hear the music as you read and can imagine and feel the picture and emotions the author has created. The author gives detailed accounts of the oppressed history of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War from the main character’s struggles to overcome the pain of his interment in the past and the racism he faces in present. Throughout the novel we also see how his inner strength, love of family and appreciation for art, music and nature has helped to teach him to be a peaceful person. He loses this peacefulness and it is his journey from his past to his present and the physical journey he takes from coast to coast, that he remembers and experiences life again to find his way back to inner peace, after the death of his beloved wife Lena. I would recommend this book because the scenes and accounts no matter how sad, oppressive or beautiful were easy to imagine because of the vivid descriptive details.
This book meets some of the criteria for GGC because it is written by a female Canadian author, and touches on program topics like; arts and culture, healthy relationships, self-esteem and diversity. Based on GGC ratings scale, I would say this book is suitable for adults aged 18 or older, containing no to very little, profanity, sexual content or mature themes within the context of the story.
She Said: Tania Mask
Requiem by acclaimed Canadian author Frances Itani is an amazing story of coming to terms with the past, of addressing the memories long suppressed. Bin recently and suddenly lost his wife and with his son studying on the east coast he finds himself thinking about the memories of his childhood. Bin is guided by the voice and love of his wife, Lena. He embarks on a journey filled with his own art and the music he grew up with, to find his biological father. While on this journey, Bin recounts the past and all the memories he had suppressed. The chapters alternate between the present (the late 1990’s) and the past (starting in 1942), and is beautifully and easily told in first person, with Bin telling his story.
Itani’s writing is filled with incredible imagery and every detail is easily envisioned in one’s own mind, such as the chicken coup that was his first home after the war. Although it is fictional story, it is filled with historically accurate information, and there are parts of the story that read as though they could be historical fact. It speaks of the gross mistreatment of Japanese Canadians after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and how families struggled for survival, even after the war.
Although the historical content of the book is very interesting and well written, the best parts of the book have nothing to do with the internment camps, but with Bin’s personal struggles and journey to find solace. This is not a book I would typically pick, but I could not put it down, I highly recommend it to everyone.
— Tania lives in Windsor, Ontario and is working towards getting her P.Eng designation as a civil/environmental engineer. Photo Credit: Nicole Wood’s Timeless Treasures Photography