Requiem

Requiem

by Frances Itani

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Overview

“Remarkable . . . Requiem delicately probes the complex adjustments we make to live with our sorrows. . . . [A] perfectly modulated novel.”— The Washington Post

An extraordinary researcher and scholar of detail, Frances Itani—author of the best-selling novel Deafening —excels at weaving breathtaking fiction from true-life events. In her new novel, she traces the lives, loves, and secrets in one Japanese-Canadian family during and after their internment in the 1940s.

In 1942, in retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Canadian government removed Bin Okuma’s family from their home on British Columbia’s west coast and forced them into internment camps. They were allowed to take only the possessions they could carry, and Bin, as a young boy, was forced to watch neighbors raid his family’s home before the transport boats even undocked. One hundred miles from the “Protected Zone,” they had to form new makeshift communities without direct access to electricity, plumbing, or food—for five years.

Fifty years later, after his wife’s sudden death, Bin travels across Canada to find the biological father who has been lost to him. Both running from grief and driving straight toward it, Bin must ask himself whether he truly wants to find First Father, the man who made a fateful decision that almost destroyed his family all those years ago. With his wife’s persuasive voice in his head and the echo of their love in his heart, Bin embarks on an unforgettable journey into his past that will throw light on a dark time in history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802121233
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 08/06/2013
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 623,808
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Frances Itani is the author of two other novels: the bestselling Deafening , winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Canada and Caribbean Region) and the Drummer General’s Award, and shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and Remembering the Bones , shortlisted for a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. She has also written two collections of short fiction: Leaning, Leaning Over Water and Poached Egg on Toast.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

1997

The call from my sister, Kay, comes in the evening. Second call in a week.

"He isn't dying, Bin. I want to make that clear. He sits in his chair, facing the door, as if he expects someone to walk through. He asks for you every time I visit. I've driven to B.C. twice in the past six weeks — it's a long drive from here. But he won't budge from his place."

"First Father?" I can't resist, though I'm not proud of saying it like that.

"I wish you wouldn't call him that."

"That's what he is."

"You still have anger." She says this softly, but impatience is there, underneath.

"Don't you?"

"Not about the same things. Anyway, I try not to hold on to it."

I want to snap at her when she talks like this. I want to say, Get angry yourself, why don't you. You deserve to.

"He's old, Bin. Well, getting old. In his eighties, after all. I'd bring him here to Alberta if he'd agree to leave that tiny house of his."

"But he won't," I say. "And since Mother died, he insists on living alone — or so you keep telling me."

"You've never seen his house, because you refuse to visit Kamloops. In summer it's stifling, take my word for it. Another month or so, and it'll be scorching there."

"Why doesn't he go to the coast before the weather changes?"

"He won't. Not even with his own brother, though Uncle Kenji has offered to drive him, countless times. Father just sits there staring at the door, or out the window at dry mountains." She pauses and adds, "He needs to see you."

I choose to ignore this and remain silent for a moment. He made his choices, I'm thinking. More than half a century ago. His needs are not my concern.

I feel Kay bracing herself, ready to argue or persuade.

"As a matter of fact," I tell her suddenly, "I've decided to travel — west — to British Columbia. As far as the Fraser, to the camp. Well, there is no camp, but whatever is there now."

This announcement surprises me as much as it does her. There's a longer pause and I wonder, foolishly, if she has hung up.

"I won't be in your part of the country for several days, of course." I'm making this up, now, as I speak. "I'll be leaving in the morning, but I probably won't reach Edmonton for a week — more or less. I have things to do along the way."

Basil has been listening and pads by in the hall, his nails clattering against hardwood. He tilts his shaggy head at an angle, enough to ensure that his expression of reproach has been noticed. Nose to floor, long ears dragging the dust, he disappears into the kitchen. I'm certain he does this — the ear-dragging part — on purpose.

"What things?" Kay, as usual, has recovered quickly.

"Work things." I've never liked explaining myself, not even to my wife, Lena. "I'll phone when I get close."

"You're driving. All this way. By yourself."

I hear a long sigh and have a sudden image of Kay standing at a picture window in her Alberta home, looking out at a disc of sun hovering over flat, golden plain. No, there will be nothing golden this time of year in Edmonton. Last summer, when she moved from one neighbourhood to another, she wrote to say that her new house is close to the ravine and the University of Alberta — where she has worked as a counsellor for many years. For all I know, she might be staring into the depths of a crevasse, or at rows of houses, or at spring snow melting in a parking lot. After the enforced years in the camp, Kay has always hated the mountains. She feels squeezed between them every time she drives to B.C., says the mountains press in on her lungs until she's short of breath. Maybe now that her children are grown and on their own, she's finally found a place where she can breathe deeply, no dips or peaks to interrupt her view. A place where she can retire in a year or two, in peace. Her husband, Hugh, has already retired, and Kay has told me that he loves having his time to himself now. He has all sorts of projects going, though she's never said what kind of projects these are.

Basil reappears, having circled kitchen, laundry, dining room. His face looks up in innocence, but something is drooping from his jaw. He drags it across the floor and, without stopping, plops it at my feet and carries on. I watch his low-slung body disappear, sixty pounds of Basset Griffon, the Grand version. He's predominantly white, with a mix of grey, black and apricot markings, the apricot showing through from a thick undercoat. He circles again, this time reversing direction. He's been sticking his nose in the dirty laundry again, probably feeling ignored. Loping his way through an existential dog nightmare, perhaps.

"I'll be alone," I say into the phone. And now it's Kay's turn to be silent.

Who else would be with me? Lena has been dead more than five months. Greg returned to his studies on the East Coast and is back to living his own life. He left a week after the funeral, in mid-November. He was home again at Christmas, and we managed to get through muted festivities at Lena's sister's place in Montreal. Greg flew to Ottawa first, and we travelled together by train to Montreal. Neither of us wanted to drive because the roads were hazardous, covered in snow and ice.

Once in Montreal, we did our best to keep well-meaning relatives at bay — or were surrounded. One and the same, perhaps. There were always people around, people in every room. Was that by accident, or was Lena's family orchestrating our grief as well as their own? When I think of those few days, I remember chairs crowded around the kitchen table, lineups for bathrooms in the morning, music turned up a little louder than necessary. I particularly remember the Sanctus of Berlioz's Requiem, only the Sanctus, a solo tenor voice. It was a blend of pain and beauty, and I felt that the tenor, after singing, could only go offstage and weep. As for the answering women's choir, they were intent on bringing solace from afar. The women sang as if something clear and important had to be said. Perhaps that is when something I was holding back fell away. Perhaps that is when I began to allow myself to grieve.

As soon as Kay and I hang up, I phone Greg to tell him about the trip — before I change my mind. It's an hour later on the East Coast but he's up, studying. He, too, is surprised at my sudden announcement.

"Hey," he says, "you're really going back? Through the mountains? All the way?"

"Through the Rockies," I tell him. "As far inland as the camp, but not all the way to the Pacific. Do you want to come? It's been a while since we crossed the country by car."

"I'd love to, Dad, but I have term papers to finish. After exams, I have to prepare my research project."

Greg has a spot in a summer fellowship program in Massachusetts — exactly where he wants to be. He deserves to be excited about this.

"I don't have all the dates figured out yet," he says. "But maybe we can get together in Cape Cod while I'm there. Or even earlier. I'll let you know as soon as everything is confirmed."

During the conversation, while he tells me what he'll be doing at Woods Hole, the Oceanographic Institution, I find myself calling up a memory of a time when he discovered a dolphin skull on the shores of Passamaquoddy Bay. Almost eleven years ago. The Fundy tide was low; we'd been beachcombing. The skull had washed up on brown and slippery rocks, the elongated bones of its distinctive rostrum bleached by the sun. Greg easily recognized it for what it was, a perfect discovery for a ten-year-old. The skull stank for months, but we dried it in the sun in the backyard an entire summer, until it was odourless enough to be in his room. It's still there, on a shelf with his other marine treasures.

We say goodbye, I hang up the phone and lean forward to see what Basil has dropped at my feet. It's a message, a dismembered sleeve, a rag, a duster tugged up and out of the hamper. Part of a sweatshirt Lena used to wear around the house.

I recognize this as a measure of Basil's distress. He's a pack animal. And a member of his pack — our pack — is missing.

CHAPTER 2

Five-thirty in the morning and I've been dreaming of Lena. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, wrapped in a cream-coloured robe that I don't recall, her bare legs crossed at the knee. It was the way she always sat: on kitchen chairs, on the chesterfield, in the seats of airplanes. But there she was, in the dream, her dark hair pushed back behind her ears. My first thought was: Lena is okay. She can move, she can speak. She was teasing, telling me I'd slept the sleep of the high-strung and uneasy. Before that, she curled into my body deliberately, her skin as soft as it was when she was in her twenties, when I first met her.

Then I woke, or thought I woke, to see her sitting beside me. She raised an eyebrow, as if waiting for me to say something. But when I reached for her, she was gone. Did I call out? Perhaps that was part of the dream — believing I had.

I glance at the clock, 5:18, shove back the covers and force myself, will myself, to get up, even though it's still dark. I go to the window, naked, and pull back one of the curtains. Search for the line of river on the northern edge of the city and feel the disappointment as I realize, in the fog between sleep and awareness, that this is not the river of my childhood after all. So real is my childhood river, I can call up at any moment its steep banks, the steady rush of fast and muddy water, the ribbon of blue-green coming in from the side.

I push down the fluttering, the extra beats inside my chest, try to smother the sense of panic. And as I stare out, I recall an earlier dream. Or perhaps fragments of the same dream, a prequel of sorts.

I had been moving from one place to another, as one's dream-self does, changing scenes in a way that makes no sense to the conscious mind. I was walking in drizzling rain, searching for the Fraser River below the camp. As I descended the steep path, I caught glimpses of a horizontal rope of cloud stretched low above the turbulent water. I was wet and miserable and fatigued, and lay on the ground in that damp, leaden air, hoping to rest. When I woke, it was to find myself at the river's edge. Again, Lena was there, her body curled into mine.

Let it go, I tell myself. Let her go. I release the curtain and make my way downstairs in bare feet. Open the door for Basil, who streaks past in a grizzled mass of coiled energy and, just as coiled, returns. For a dog who is ten years old, he has surprising vigour. I pour pellets into his dish and turn away while he gallops through his food. The pellets resemble swollen cigarette butts stripped of their papers, an image I can do without so early in the morning.

A thin light has begun to filter down over the street. Next door, in the backyard of my elderly neighbour, Miss Carrie, a chaotic tangle of gooseberry bushes has emerged from under cover of melting snow. The snowbanks have shrunk to grass level now, but it's a stretch to believe that bulbs are pushing up under that layer of slush. Years ago, Lena planted crocuses in our own backyard and, every spring, delicate purples and yellows defy the weight of winter and reappear like tendrils of hope.

Basil nudges my leg, my cue to pour water into his bowl. I wonder when to tell him we're going on a trip. If I say the word, or even spell it aloud, as Lena and Greg and I used to do — though he quickly caught on — he'll begin to run in tight, frantic circles until it's time for me to say: Get in the car, Basil. From the way I'm being watched, I suspect he already knows. He's tensed and ready, waiting for the words.

Despite his canine intuition, I make an effort to behave as if this is a morning like any other. I leave him in the kitchen and go back upstairs to dress, shave, pack a duffle bag. Shirts, socks, underwear, rough clothes for hiking that I can throw into a machine at a laundromat along the way — but only when necessary.

I add a couple of extra razors to my shaving kit and go to my studio, same side of the house as the bedroom. The blinds are never closed here. Clouds are tilted on their edges out there, a fleet of sails tucked to one another, news gusting from afar. With daylight lowering into the cold glint of city, I can see the Ottawa River more clearly now, a winding strip of darkness that defines the borders of two provinces. The Peace Tower erupts to the left. Old and dun, it lauds the sky without assumption, while the seats of power, the offices of Parliament, reside on either side. Not a scene I relish when I think of how the power was used in 1942. I focus, instead, on the smudges of pewter that are trees and bushes along the edge of the river as it disappears into an outline of hills behind.

I look down at my work table, knowing I've left the most important part of packing to the end. Every journey begins the same way. With reluctance, holding part of the self in abeyance, a distancing until I'm ready. I'm caught by this feeling, no matter what the destination. It's a suspension of the want, the real work, the getting serious, the facing up. But facing up also means admitting the dark places that are only too ready to seep from the shadows. It occurs to me that I'm not unlike Basil, turning circles inside the front door as soon as he imagines a hand reaching for a jacket.

I stand, hands extended over the surface, ready to choose. Floor lamp to one side, small easel before me, supplies laid out as if I'd been painting only yesterday. Two plastic containers, water in one. Striped socks, a contrast of cobalt and dusky blue, slit lengthwise and made into rags that hang from hooks at the side of the table. A bar of Sunlight soap, worn flat in an old sardine tin. Brushes of every size laid out side by side; a dozen stubby bottles of acrylics in colours I've blended myself.

The truth is, I haven't been in this room for weeks. The truth is, I haven't cared about this room or the paintings in it. My heart lurches as if my thoughts have just created a zone called danger.

Across the room, an abandoned abstract leans into the larger of my two easels. From here, the edges are dark and menacing. Tentacles grope along the lower half, trying to slither into position. At the top left, oranges and yellows spill from what could be a split gourd, a generous, big-hearted offering. I feel a jolt of something stirring, some earlier sense-image. I'm struck by the balance of the whole. But just as quickly, the glimmer of satisfaction is gone. A broad, pumpkin-coloured sweep wants a push to the centre; it wants ... or maybe it's all right as it is and should be left alone.

When did I have the desire of those oranges and yellows inside me? I try to recover the feeling I had when I began to work on the canvas. Because here's the proof that I was making an effort, even if it turned out to be an aborted thrust. Stab and pull back, stab and pull back.

Anger is not so easy to disguise to the self.

My sister, Kay, would have something to say about that — if given the opening. She fills the silent spaces, has a name, a theory, for everything. As a child, she was always a leader. But she's more authoritative now, her ambition to the fore. It's partly her job, what she deals with every day in her work as a counsellor. She has to define problems, probe for solutions, solve problems. Sometimes I picture a sleep-deprived student facing her across a wide desk, fumbling, looking down at his lap, inventing answers he thinks she would like to hear. And what about Greg? Has he been seeing a counsellor at his own university? He wouldn't tell me one way or another. Not that I would ask. I don't push my way into his territory unless invited.

At the beginning, after Lena's death, after the funeral in November, he phoned home every few days. His grief was raw and undisguised, the calls painfully brief. They are less frequent now — more like every few weeks.

"Dad? Are you working yet? Are you okay?"

I wasn't able to help him and didn't know how anyway. Greg has been a worrier, a Gramps, from the day he was born. Remembering the waver in his voice during one of those calls makes me think of another episode from his childhood. He hadn't yet started school and I was away on assignment, doing illustrations for a natural history magazine that paid extremely well. I was staying at a motel in Alberta's Badlands and had been gone almost two weeks when I received a letter from Lena. In those days, we wrote when either of us was away. Or sent cards.

You've been missed from the moment you boarded the plane. All the way back from the airport Greg stared glumly out the side window of the car. He said, "It isn't funny, you know. It isn't one bit funny when the family is split up like this." When we returned to the house, he spread his palms — truly indignant — and said, accusing ME, as if I were the one responsible, "Now there are only two."

And how, Lena continued, am I supposed to handle that?

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Requiem"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Itani Writes Inc..
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Requiem 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
terriko on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of a journey, both literal and figurative, as Bin travels across Canada as an adult, confronting his memories of growing up Japanese-Canadian through the start of the second world war, the internment camps, and building a life thereafter. Beautifully told. I felt it a bit slow at first, but as the story unfolds you get caught up in the mystery of what happened between Bin and his father. Hauntingly sad at times, but filled with joy at others. This is probably something every Canadian should read.
ChelseaManchester More than 1 year ago
The alternation of current time with the childhood of the protagonist gives the reader two stories along the same thread. It is very interesting to compare this novel of the internment of the Japanese in Canada with other fictional accounts, such as Dallas' Tallgrass and Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars. Each is written from a different perspective, and each gives voice to the American and Canadian citizens who were torn from the homes and yet somehow retained their dignity. Requiem is a book worthy of discussion and much thought. Its themes of family, trust, hardship, and the importance of the arts make it a good book club book, as well as a novel that will appeal to many readers of good fiction.
hollandTN More than 1 year ago
Great story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thia waa an amazing journey...beautifully written.
arlenadean More than 1 year ago
Author: Frances Itani Published By: Atlantic Monthly Press Age Recommended: Adult Reviewed By: Arlena Dean Book Blog For: GMTA Rating: 4 Review: "Requiem" by Frances Itani was wonderful written novel that gives a revealing look into the Japanese internment of the Canadians in British Colombian following the bombing of Pearl Harbour, during World War Two in 1942. This author has weaved this story into past and present with a 'heart felt family story shedding light on a painful period of Canada's history when those of Japanese descent were interned.' I felt this was a fascinating story how this man's journey back to his past with his friend...his dog and memories of his wife...along with him in the front seat. This novel is of Bin Okuma who was a Canadian painter of Japanese descent and was married to a Canadian girl...had one son...wife dies...now going on a journey to West Coast...to find that his 'first-father' is ageing...having not been close to his father... Bin now decides to see his father...and goes the story and the part that I say to find out father you must pick up "Requiem" and find out what memories will come back to him during has childhood...with his family...their previous life as fisherman until the boasts were confiscated and then there travel to the camp in British Columbia. In this novel you will see how the author brings to the writer three time frames: "the distant past, when Bin lived with his family in an internment camp, the recent past, with memories of his life with his wife and son in Canada, and the current day, the road journey across Canada with his dog, Basil." This was a different read for me because I hadn't read about the experiences of the Japanese in Canada. Having done so, I found "Requeim" a very interesting read. I thought that the characters were very well developed with this novel showing much feeling, grief and even consolation and yes, I would recommend this novel as a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago