A Gift From My Grandparents

eBook - 2014
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When the Second World War broke out, Ralph MacLean chose to escape his troubled life on the Magdalen Islands in eastern Canada and volunteer to serve his country overseas. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Mitsue Sakamoto saw her family and her stable community torn apart after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Like many young Canadian soldiers, Ralph was captured by the Japanese army. He would spend the war in prison camps, enduring pestilence, beatings and starvation, as well as a journey by hell ship to Japan to perform slave labour, while around him his friends and countrymen perished. Back in Canada, Mitsue and her family were expelled from their home by the government and forced to spend years eking out an existence in rural Alberta, working other people's land for a dollar a day. By the end of the war, Ralph emerged broken but a survivor. Mitsue, worn down by years of back-breaking labour, had to start all over again in Medicine Hat, Alberta. A generation later, at a high school dance, Ralph's daughter and Mitsue's son fell in love. Although the war toyed with Ralph's and Mitsue's lives and threatened to erase their humanity, these two brave individuals somehow surmounted enormous transgressions and learned to forgive. Without this forgiveness, their grandson Mark Sakamoto would never have come to be.
Publisher: Toronto : HarperCollins, 2014.
ISBN: 9781443417990
Characteristics: 1 online resource (245 pages) : illustrations
Additional Contributors: 3M Company


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Jan 29, 2019

This book was surprisingly poorly edited and written. Even though it was able to effectively convey the story, it was not properly organized and there seem to be too many characters mentioned to follow along. I think this book had lots of potentials to tell a powerful story but it did not use it. Although this book does not use great writing stance, I think this does teach people a very important lesson; war does not benefit anyone. In Ralph's case, he is imprisoned in a POW camp and endures labor, hunger, and disease. I think this does accurately interpret the situation of an American POW in a Japanese camp. Meanwhile, a Japanese family is forced out by the government and sent to work in the fields at Alberta for a meager wage.

I rated this book a 7/10 because of it's lackluster writing stance and I believe that it could almost have been a rushed book. The editor does a poor job of organizing paragraphs and train of thought. I think this book could have been a lot better than it was.

Jan 28, 2019

I sincerely wish this book had been better written and/or edited. The stories are compelling and well-told in themselves but the relationships are often bewildering. Basically, the author's mother was the daughter of Ralph MacLean, a Canadian POW. His dad (Ron?) was a first-generation Japanese-Canadian, son of Mitsue Sakamoto and her husband Hideo. Other names and relatives drift in and out with little sense of their importance in the narrative.

SurreyLibrarian Jan 17, 2019

/Submitted by Pippa/

Sakamoto’s account of his maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother is compelling reading. Both experienced the effects of World War 2 – his grandfather in a Japanese POW camp and his grandmother the hardships of BC’s forced relocation of its Japanese residents and citizens. We get a detailed look at their upbringing and lives, giving us tremendous insight into the times and character of these people, which is thoroughly engaging.

The book changes after the first half when the author begins his own story, particularly when he focuses on his mother’s journey into alcoholism and poverty, but it still leaves a deep impression on the reader. Instead of dealing with the theme ‘forgiveness’ between two people, in fact two families, with powerful reasons to hate each other, the subject is briefly glossed over. You’re left to assume they nobly put the past behind them when their children marry but are barely mentioned in the second half. Sakamoto is definitely not a great writer, some of his historical facts are incorrect, and the book feels disjointed, but I still recommend it as worth reading. It won the CBC’s Canada Reads in 2018 which says more for its champion, Jeanne Beker, than the book itself, but again, its content holds a strong message for us all.

Jan 12, 2019

This is the way history should be taught. Not some dry textbook account that leaves you unable to connect with the people involved, even if you sympathize with what they have been through. The fact that you are treated to both sides of the story, so to speak, is a bonus. I learned a lot from this book and highly recommend it. Really did not think it would be my kind of thing but I could not put it down.

TechLibrarian Jul 04, 2018

I was pretty certain that I wouldn't like Forgiveness, this year's Canada Reads winner, as much as I liked another of the contenders, The Marrow Thieves. I am really pleasantly surprised to have been wrong in making this assumption! Mark Sakamoto's writing style is just lovely--descriptive but not too flowery or sentimental--and the story unfolds as if it was a novel. Furthermore, the subject matter is strikingly relevant to some current events, so it provides an opportunity for critical reflection as to how the past can repeat itself. Ultimately, this book promises a lesson in forgiveness, so it's not a downer, though the characters (the author's grandparents) endure awful hardships. This would be a great book for a book club discussion, or for anyone who has experienced trauma, and I just generally think it's a good book that most people would be able to get into, regardless of their usual reading preferences. See for yourself!

Jun 26, 2018

What a wonderful book. Thank you Mark Sakamoto for sharing 'your' story. I shed tears over the way the men were treated in the POW camp and more tears for the treatment of Canadian people of Japanese decent. I admire the strength and bravery of your ancestors. Sorry for your mother's decisions and the eventual consequences. You are who you are because of those who came before you.

May 18, 2018

Thank you Mr. Sakamoto for sharing your grandparents’, as well as your own, stories: one grandparent whose whole family suffered racial hatred when they took the bold step to move from Japan to Canada. If that weren’t enough, a few short years later, were forcibly interned when WWII broke out. The other grandparent, who fought in the war against the Japanese when he was stationed in Hong Kong, experienced all the atrocities that goes with being at war. Most can guess that these two sets of grandparents end up linked in the form of a grandson named Mark and Forgiveness is the story of how that came to be.
As far as World War II is concerned I knew about the Germans, lots about the Germans. I knew the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. I knew China was involved. But I had no idea that Japan invaded Hong Kong and that there were Canadian troops stationed there. Hong Kong is where Sakamoto’s grandfather was stationed. I liked how the story delves into parts of our past that aren’t at the forefront of our history books. It certainly was an eye opener for me. It inspired me to research more about the relationship between China and Japan and why the Japanese entered the war on the side of the Germans, especially given the fact that in WW I they were on the Allied side, assisting the British and later the Americans by offering troops, naval assets, etc.
My attention wasn’t as riveted towards the last half, but the grandparents’ excellent story made my worldview a little bigger.

debwalker Mar 29, 2018

Canada Reads winner for 2018. How to forgive the unforgivable?

Mar 18, 2018

This title is catalogued at my library with the WWII history books, no doubt because a section of the story describes the experiences of a Canadian prisoner of war who survives horrific conditions in a Hong Kong prison camp, and later as slave labor in Osaka. But this is not the whole story.

There is no competition between the various horrors endured by Canadian citizens robbed of their homes and businesses, forced into working dirt farms in rural Alberta, and the desperate captivity of a family witnessing a loved one be destroyed by alcoholism. Pain is pain, and there is no need to rank one as worse than another. That so many survive these troubles and emerge as healthy adults is a miracle and a testament to the power of forgiveness and love.

What saddened and surprised me is how ignorant I was about the crimes committed against Canadian citizens. Despite growing up in Vancouver, I had no idea what had been done to the people with Japanese ancestry during the war years. As we continue live in a society bitterly divided by racism, it shouldn't have been a surprise, but the details were new to me. I'm glad to have finally read this slice of history.

Feb 04, 2018

This book is difficult to define. Upon starting out, I thought it was a political commentary about the idiocy of war and how everyone involved on both sides lost. I thought he did a phenomenal job of showing that the harshest treatment of the Japanese prisoners of war in Hong Kong (Grandfather MacLean's part of the story) was comparable to the losses felt by Grandma Mitsue and her family undergoing prisoner-of-war conditions in Canada (the Sakamoto side of the story). Both the Sakamoto's and MacLean's showed grace in how they handled the awful, unfairness of the war and how they got on with their lives without bitterness. Then somewhere about page 203, it became about family, family dynamics, what we owe family, and Mark's guilt as the oldest son in a Japanese family, who is supposed to ensure that his family stays strong and cohesive. I thought that this book has a lot of heart, and is populated by kind, ethical people. I took away the message that no matter how hard you try, sometimes things just don't work out as you expect, but you can still grab the goodness that is there. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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