In 1997, Binosuki Okuma, an artist living in Ottawa, hears from his sister in Winnipeg. She implores him to visit “First Father,” who is in his eighties and resides in Kamloops, BC. She says, “He sits in his chair, facing the door, as if he expects someone to walk through.” In 1942, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Bin and his family were interned in the Fraser River Valley Camp, along with some 22,000 other Canadians of Japanese ancestry. Bin has not seen First Father for nearly 50 years. Surprisingly, Bin informs his sister of his decision to travel west to BC, by road.
Bin is grieving the unexpected death of his wife a few months before. His son returns to university studies, and Bin, accompanied by his dog, embarks on a journey of soul-searching, remembrance and healing. Apart from a duffel bag, he takes along art supplies and music tapes. While he enjoys Beethoven and Benny Goodman, he cannot forget the Sanctus of Berioz’s Requiem that he’d heard at his wife’s funeral. During his drive across Canada, Bin recalls his time in the camp and his married life.
Frances Itani, an award-winning author, has done a masterful job of intertwining the vignettes. Similar to Kogawa’s Obisan, Itani has exposed the dreadful conditions in the Canadian internment camps and the losses and hardships experienced by Japanese-Canadians. Since these descriptions at times might read like a non-fiction text, and in order to keep this historical novel attention-grabbing, Itani has introduced an element of mystery into the plot. Readers will wonder who “First Father” is and why Bin didn’t see him for a half-century. Who took care of Bin after internment? And, will Bin meet this octogenarian to resolve their differences? These questions will surely keep readers engrossed to the ending. Recommended.