By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor
When I received the novel “Repentance” by Andrew Lam, I was apprehensive. I wondered if this was going to be another stereotypical, rah-rah 442nd story that was going to glorify the exploits of the Nisei soldiers with little depth.
In addition, the novel was written by a non-Nikkei. Now, I’m not saying the Nikkei experience can’t be written by a non-Nikkei, but there are enough fiction novels and films out there on the Japanese American World War II experience done badly by non-Nikkei.
Andrew Lam is none of the above. His writing is like a breath of fresh air.
Lam was able to create characters that readers can connect to and even like — no small feat since this is one of the most difficult things to do as a fiction writer.
It is also obvious that Lam has done his research, not only into the World War II era, but also on Japanese American sensibilities and cultural quarks.
The pacing is good, and the plot line has enough twists and turns to keep the reader wanting to turn to the next page and the next because Lam slips in so many unanswered questions and family secrets that beg to be resolved.
The story revolves around Daniel Tokunaga, whom we assume is Sansei. He is a heart surgeon who is married to a Caucasian and lives on the East Coast, away from the Nikkei community. When the story opens, Tokunaga is estranged from his father, a 442nd veteran, and is also having marital problems due to his workaholic tendencies.
When the United States government contacts Tokunaga’s father, the father becomes apprehensive, and the son embarks on a quest to learn what exactly his father had done in France during World War II, while fighting the Germans. This is where the book’s title becomes relevant with the question of who should be repenting — the son or the father?
The book has historical notes at the end but some problematic points on the definition include the use of euphemisms such as the term, “internment” camps, to describe the War Relocation Authority camps, which were U.S.-style concentration camps. It also describes the 442nd RCT as the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. What is commonly forgotten is that the 442nd RCT is considered the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in U.S. military history.
Aside from these minor issues, the novel is well written and is a great tool to educate the general public on a part of American history, little known outside the Nikkei community.
In the section “About the Author,” it notes that Lam has a medical degree and is an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. If he’s as good an ophthalmologist as he is a writer, then I’d certainly trust having eye surgery done by him.
Repentance by Andrew Lam
Tiny Fox Press
$15.95 soft back