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Rizzuto, Rahna Reiko

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ISBN 10: 0060193700 / ISBN 13: 9780060193706
Published by Harpercollins, New York, 1999
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Very Good in a Very Good dust jacket. ; ; 9.30 X 6.10 X 1.40 inches; 295 pages. Bookseller Inventory # 58337

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Bibliographic Details


Publisher: Harpercollins, New York

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hardcover

Edition: First Edition; Second Printing.

About this title


A haunting novel of uncommon emotional power, Why She Left Us weaves in and out of the personal tragedies and political persecution of three generations of a Japanese American family and exposes the complex, often destructive bonds of love and honor that tie a family together.

At the center of the story is Emi Okada, a young girl who finds herself pregnant and alone on the eve of World War II. She gives up her firstborn, Eric, for adoption, but her mother finds the boy and brings him home, intent on raising him as part of the Okada family. This crucial event becomes a turning point in the story as it dramatically alters the lives of Emi's parents, siblings, and, later, her children. Betrayals and secrets tear a family apart a family that is already struggling with assimilation, intergenerational conflict, and war.

Narrated in turn by Emi's two children, Eric and Mariko, her mother, Kaori, and her brother Jack, Why She Left Us crisscrosses the century--from Japanese picture brides and migrant farm workers to the internment of Japanese Americans in the Colorado desert to contemporary Los Angeles and Hawaii, where Emi's two children have settled as adults. When, fifty years after the war, Mariko applies for reparations from the American government for the family's secret. As she tries to unravel the mystery that shrouds the events of the past, and to find her lost brother, Eric, Mariko must come to terms with her complicity and her own secrets, as well as her feelings of guilt for being the child Emi chose to keep.

Sparely and exquisitely written, Why She Left Us is a superbly accomplished first novel that illuminated the universal relationships between mothers and their children, while evoking the power of history to affect individual lives.


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

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