Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Search for forgiveness spans generations

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Three stories in one book sounds like a bonus. In the case of Mark Sakamoto's Forgiveness, the three include a memoir of an old soldier who survived the brutality of a Japanese POW camp after the fall of Hong Kong; a young Canadian bride uprooted from her B.C. home because she was Japanese; and the author's detailing his mother's descent into alcoholism and poverty and the strength he drew from his two grandparents -- along with their example of forgiveness.

Sakamoto, a former lawyer, currently lives in Toronto with his wife and two children. The book began as an essay before morphing into its final form; as such, it reads as a bit of a hybrid.

Unfortunately, as moving and engaging as each story is in and of itself, the sum total never adds up to more than the parts.

Each biography would certainly have been easier to follow with a family tree. In the first section, Sakamoto's grandfather Ralph MacLean is a young man from the Magdalen Islands in eastern Canada. In an often-told Second World War tale, the Canadian army quickly trains him and others, then sends them (via the Winnipeg Grenadiers) to defend the indefensible -- Hong Kong.

Those who didn't die in the attack by the Japanese or from the savagery shown to the survivors faced a slow death by starvation, working and living conditions, or execution.

This is very powerful writing -- surprisingly more shocking than the images of the current film The Railway Man that covers some of the same issues.

In the second story, Sakamoto's grandmother Mitsue is a young dressmaker in Vancouver and a Canadian citizen at the start of the war. It didn't make any difference. Fear, racism and jealousy sees her entire family interned and shipped to a drafty chicken coop in Alberta to work in the sugar beet fields.

Their family heirlooms are destroyed in a questionable fire while they are away, and their financial settlement for all their other possessions after the war amounts to a measly $25.65.

Considering Winnipegger Art Miki's own story in a recent edition of the Winnipeg Free Press, as well as Joy Kogawa's book Obasan, the grandmother's story is representative.

The third story tells of Mark Sakamoto's childhood in Medicine Hat, along with the remarkable recounting of his paternal and maternal grandparents' acceptance and love for each other.

However, the bridges his grandparents build from their disturbing past to feeling at peace in the present are in stark contrast to his attempt to forgive his mother for dying before she had to as well as forgiving himself for not doing more to change her self-destructive path.

The third portion of the book is perhaps the most powerful. It comes without preaching, warning or lesson teaching.

Summing it up in the epilogue, Sakamoto states: "Your victory was in the way you both went on to live your lives. You refused to be defined by those most injurious of years. You did not dwell there."


Ron Robinson is a semi-retired Winnipeg broadcaster.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2014 G8


Updated on Saturday, June 7, 2014 at 7:29 AM CDT: Formatting.

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