Forgiveness Across Generations

Book review

Two families – one British Canadian and one Japanese Canadian – are brought together although their ethnic communities are at war with each other. This book is more a memoir than a novel, as it recounts the true story of Sakamoto’s grandparents’ lives. On one hand, his British Canadian maternal grandfather Ralph MacLean – a Canadian soldier in the Pacific during World War II – was brutally treated by the Japanese, both in a horrendous battle and then in a frighteningly cruel concentration camp during World War II. He watched most of his comrades die, many through torturous experiences at the hands of the Japanese army.

At the very same time, however, Sakamoto’s Japanese-Canadian paternal grandparents were cruelly deprived of all their worldly goods by the Canadian government and re-settled from Vancouver to a rugged Albertan farm. They were not tortured and killed, but they were demeaned, disenfranchised, and basically deported from their homes and businesses – despite being Canadian citizens and having little enduring connection to Japan.

The wonder of it all is that his parents, the descendants of these two grandparents – a Japanese-Canadian father and British-Canadian mother – fell in love and married.

This book is a tremendously riveting read; it won the Canada Reads contest in 2018. Some of the scenes of violence from the war can be quite disturbing and it is a wonder that his grandfather lived through it all, and still forgave his enemies. Although forgiveness – based in an injunction from the gospels – is the lynch-pin of the book, the romance of his parents union lacks a fairy-tale ending. Despite the title of the book, the religious references in the book are few and far between. It’s really more of a powerful personal story that stretches across generations, relating both the dark cruelty of human beings toward each other and the mysterious turn of events that can only make you shake your head and be amazed.

  • Peter is Executive Director of Global Scholars Canada, a transnational guild of Christian scholars. He preaches, teaches and writes – having written columns, editorials, news and features for CC since 1997. His book The Subversive Evangelical: The Ironic Charisma of an Irreligious Megachurch (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019) is an ethnographic journey into the life of a megachurch and its “irreligious” charismatic leader. He loves stories that cross boundaries while maintaining integrity.

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