This is the story of hundreds women who leave their native Japan to meet their new husbands in America. The only thing they know is what they look like, thanks to grainy portraits they were sent beforehand. They all speak as one narrative, with voices intertwining and telling tales of hope, desperation, disappointment and love found in their new world.
My favourite passage has to be this one, when they first arrive in the US.
My husband is not the man in the photograph. My husband is the man in the photograph but aged by many years. My husband’s handsome best friend is the man in the photograph. My husband is a drunkard. My husband is the manager of the Yamato Club and his entire torso is covered with tattoos. My husband is shorter than he claimed to be in his letters, but then again, so am I. My husband was awarded the Sixth Class Order of the Golden Kite during the Russo-Japanese War and now walks with a pronounced limp. My husband was smuggled into the country across the Mexican border. My husband is a stowaway who jumped ship in San Francisco the day before the great earthquake of 1906 and every night he dreams he must get to the ferry. My husband adores me. My husband will not leave me alone. My husband is a good man who works extra hard whenever I cannot keep up the pase so the boss doesn’t send me home.
It is a beautiful tale of strife and struggle, where some women are lucky and others are not. Although there is no main character, the women come to life as the book goes on, climaxing with the impact that World War II had on Japanese civilians in the US. Otsuka is clever, by not focusing on one woman’s tale you get to hear them all. She also avoids fictionalising the experience – all of the women who came to the US at that time would have gone through wildly different experiences, some of which are in this book.
I loved this book inconditionally, and will forever be thankful that I stumbled on it rather by accident in the library. It was beautiful.
This review is part of the 1000 books before 30 challenge. Read more about it here.
Featured image – Creative commons photo courtesy of MOTOKI plasticboystudio