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Why She Left Us: A Novel Paperback – September 5, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; First Edition edition (September 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060931825
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060931827
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,797,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Why She Left Us revolves around an intriguing mystery: a Japanese American woman's abandonment of her illegitimate child during World War II. Rahna Reiko Rizzuto reveals the reason for her act--and its effect on four generations of her family--in a series of alternating narratives. A son, daughter, mother, and brother all chime in, and the author's sophisticated interweaving of their tales is what gives this debut novel much of its power.

Rizzuto's book includes its share of violent and disturbing incidents. A daughter helps her mother give birth on the floor of a shack; a son accompanies his senile grandfather to the toilet; a brother delivers a swift kick to his pregnant sister's belly. Yet Why She Left Us never relies on mere sensationalism. For one thing, the author's prose is strong and vivid, and she's particularly good at evoking the passage of time: "My life doesn't come to me in any order," notes one character. "Moments flip-flop, overlap--sometimes they come only in splinters." This isn't, it should be said, a big-canvas portrait of wartime life. But Rizzuto has produced a minute and successful investigation of the moments that define what a family is.

That leaves the initial mystery. To her credit, Rizzuto doesn't come up with a pat solution: instead, she offers up a collage of perceptions, which fuse into a kind of answer as the story progresses. In other words, this is the latest addition to a growing canon of diplomatic, Rashomon-like novels. Why She Left Us is a true study in perspectives--and a kaleidoscopic lesson about the nature of memory and forgiveness. --Rucker Alex --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A very young unmarried Emi Okada gives birth twice during World War II. Her son, whom she gives away, is retrieved by Kaori, Emi's mother. Emi's daughter, Mariko (who is raised by Emi and, when Emi marries, George Hamada), barely remembers her brother, who is left behind yet again when Emi and George depart to make a life of their own. In the midst of this genealogical horror, this fractured family, which includes Kaori's brutal husband, Mistuo, her most obedient son, Jack, and her raging son, Will, is swept up in one of the most disgraceful chapters in American history when they are relocated to the Santa Anita (CA) racetrack, which has been converted into an internment camp for Japanese American citizens. The conspiracies of silence choking this family wreak havoc nearly beyond measure. Elements of tragedyAan abortion, a prison term, a war casualtyAgrab the reader. One keeps hoping that this powerful indictment of intentioned deceit, dictated by tradition and twisted loyalties, will somehow reveal just a glimmer of redemption at the end. A remarkable first novel; highly recommended.ABeth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Rizzuto uses four narrators and their very different perspectives to tell the story of three generations of a family. This device offers the reader varying, even conflicting, impressions of events and their impact on the characters. It also provides the reader with insight into just how enormous a "generation" gap can be. A women who appears cold in the eyes of her grandson (and at least this reader), gains the readers sympathy when she tells her own story.
By not giving us a simple answer to the question in the title, Rizzuto forces the reader to consider the many reasons a mother would accept one child yet reject another. What little we learn of the circumstances surrounding her two pregnancies provides the reader a long list of Emi's possible, yet ultimately unknown motivations. By leaving us wondering, this beautifully written book, its complex characters, its question and the internment, stays with you long after the last page has been re-read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, an exciting, young Hawaiian author, here uses the sordid story of the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor as the framework of a family saga. The internment of the Okada family, locked up in horse stalls at the Santa Anita race track, an internment camp, permanently scarred every member of the family. Being torn from the fabric of society and isolated in pens was an experience so thoroughly degrading that the real people who lived through it have rarely opened themselves to discuss it (and who can blame them?), and the author's telling of the story is especially dramatic because the subject is so rare in fiction.

Both masterful and uncompromising, Rizzuto paints scenes of horror and cruelty within this family, all the result of frustration, a distorted sense of honor, a lack of communication, or a feeling of utter helplessness. And while few of these scenes actually take place in the internment camp itself, nearly all are the result of the internment experience and illustrate its long-term effects. There are powerful and affecting scenes of a grandmother's flaying, a young girl's abortion, a mother's heartbreaking abandonment of her three-year-old child, a brother's brutal kicking of his sister, a young soldier's death, and, most affectingly to me, a family's wresting of a child from a woman who has adopted and raised him, and would probably have given him a better chance for a successful life.

While these individual scenes will stay with me for a very long time, the book itself really did not come together as a whole for me, however.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Rahna Reiko Rizzuto's well-written story of an Asian-American family tragedy is both compelling and fulfilling. The title is a puzzle within a puzzle for readers not familiar with Japanese-American culture following the events of the internment and its profound effect on Japanese-Americans to this day. Who knows why Miss Liberty abandoned her vow "with liberty and justice for all" and left 120,000 of her children without status, identity, or fundamental rights? As Rizzuto's story shows, it is a question first buried by Asian-Americans as they dealt with the immediate problems of the internment, then kept hidden for generations and only now voiced loudly by descendents still profoundly affected by the events and their aftermath. It is a question that cries out for an answer, even though it has none. Ironically, there are parallels in the tale of a young unmarried Japanese mother who, faced with the shame of illegitimacy and the uncertainty of life in an internment camp, leaves her son with the hope he will be adopted by a family not forced into internment. That act, which serves as a counterpoint and propels the story, however, provides the readers with its own rationale. If the book had been titled "An Asian-American Tragedy," Rizzuto would have left readers without the need to continually face the puzzle of the past as Japanese Americans do until this day. A reader in Hawaii.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I love discovering new and talented writers and Rahna Reiko Rizzuto certainly fits this description. A first novel by this Hawaii-born author, it is the story of a flawed by very real Japanese American family, including their experience in an interment camp during WWII. Using the technique of different voices in alternating chapters, the narrative goes back and forth through time, weaving a story that is at once riveting as well as filled with the impact of history.
The plot revolves around a young woman's abandonment of her illegitimate son and yet it is so much more. It is the story of her own mother. It is the story of daughter. It is the story of her brothers and their father. It is the story of what it is to be Japanese-American. And giving birth. And being a soldier. And a child that is wounded by his mother's abandonment.
Most of all it is the story of human beings. And the fact that they are Japanese American is only one part of it. It is a strong story that reeks with tragedy and reality. There is sadness here, and some redemption, and many things that never are resolved. It's not pretty, and yet the book just pulled me in, kept me reading until I finished it in one late-night reading orgy.
Ms. Rizzuto uses simple words. No poetic images here. He details are sharp and piercing and sometimes feel like fingernails being scraped across a blackboard. Each chapter is searing episode. Characterization is excellent.
Recommended although this book might be a little too strong for everyone. And I look forward to reading more from this author.
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