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Why She Left Us: A Novel Paperback – September 5, 2000
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"A remarkable first novel; highly recommended." -- --Library Journal
Memorable and haunting . . . powerful, economic prose and original characterization. -- --The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Growing up half-Japanese in Hawaii, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto knew virtually nothing about the internment camp where her maternal relatives had been confined during World War II. Her Japanese-American mother was only five when the war ended and had few memories of the camp, and the rest of the family never talked about that dark time. It wasnÂ't until 1992, when Rahna accompanied her mother and grandmother to the 50th anniversary reunion of the opening of the Amache camp in Colorado, that the full significance of the internment was brought home to her. She began interviewing people about their experience in the camps, and those interviews, she says, had a huge impact on both the structure and plot of her first novel.
Rahna was the first female to graduate from Columbia College with a degree in astrophysics, an unusual background for a novelist. ÂI grew up on the Big Island of Hawaii, and there is an observatory on Mauna Kea,Â she explains. ÂI worked there one summer, sitting in the telescope and taking pictures of globular structures, so I became interested in astrophysics. But I didnÂ't want to get my Ph.D., and there were about two women astrophysicists back then, so I didnÂ'tpursue it as a career. I just started writing in college, and IÂ've been writing ever since.Â Like most writers, Rahna has supported herself with a number of Âday jobs,Â including, for a time, one in the publicity department at Knopf. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, whose mixed heritage includes both Japanese and Chinese ancestry. Her first novel, Why She Left Us was awarded the American Book Award for fiction by the Before Columbus Foundation.
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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. The alternating points of view among various members of the family are effective in allowing the reader to see why some characters behave as they do, but the impetus to all of the action and the key to the book as a whole lies in the character of Emi, the daughter of Kaori and mother of Eric and Mari, and she is the one person whose point of view we never see. She is an enigma, and we never really get to know her. As a result, I'm still not sure "Why She Left Us." Most frustratingly, I'm also not sure whether the "She" of the title is Emi or the U.S. government. But then again, perhaps that's what the author intended. Mary Whipple
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.
The author's style made for very intriguing reading. She uses four different narrators and weaves between past and present. The style worked and held my interest.
The many scenes she describes are very realistic. I could not put the book down, I just wanted to know what was coming next.
Now I just want to know when her next novel will be out.