The Traveller in Time: An interview with Sybil Pretious who has lived through history in six countries and travelled to forty — she has participated in the first democratic elections in an apartheid-worn South Africa and is from a time when Rhodesia was the name for Zimbabwe. Click here to read.
Ratnottama Sengupta, who has edited an encyclopaedia on culture and is a renowned arts journalist, gives us the role ‘kanthas’ (hand-embroidered mats, made of old rags) played in India’s freedom struggle. Click here to read.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
John Keats (1795-1821), Ode to a Grecian Urn
What makes for great literature? To me, great literature states the truth — the truth that touches your heart with its poignancy, preciseness, sadness, gentleness, vibrancy, or humour. If Khayyam, Rumi, Keats, Tagore, Frost or Whitman had no truths to state, their poetry would have failed to mesmerise time and woo readers across ages. Their truths – which can be seen as eternal ones — touch all human hearts with empathetic beauty. Lalon Fakir rose from an uneducated illiterate mendicant to a poet because he had the courage to sing the truth about mankind — to put social norms and barriers aside and versify his truth, which was ours and still is. This can be applied to all genres. Short stories by Saki, O’ Henry or plays and essays by Bernard Shaw — what typifies them? The truth they speak with perhaps a sprinkle of humour. Alan Paton spoke the truth about violence and its arbitrariness while writing of South Africa — made the characters so empathetic that Cry, My Beloved Country(1948) is to me one of the best fictions describing divides in the world, and the same divides persist today. The truth is eternal as in George Orwell’s 1984 (1949) or Suskind’s Perfume(1985). We love laughter from Gerald Durrell or PG Wodehouse too because they reflect larger truths that touch mankind as does the sentimentality of Dickens or the poignancy of Hardy or the societal questioning of the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, and Jane Austen. The list of greats in this tradition would be a very long one.
Our focus this time is on a fearless essayist in a similar tradition, one who unveiled truths rising above the mundane, lacing them with humour to make them easily digestible for laymen – a writer and a polyglot who knew fourteen languages by the name of Syed Mujtaba Ali (1904-1974). He was Tagore’s student, a Humboldt scholar who lived across six countries, including Afghanistan and spoke of the things he saw around him. Cherished as a celebrated writer among Bengali readers, he wrote for journals and published more than two dozen books that remained untranslated because his witticisms were so entrenched by cultural traditions that no translator dared pick up their pen. Many decades down the line, while in Afghanistan, a BBC editor for South and Central Asia, Nazes Afroz, translated bits of Mujtaba Ali’s non-fiction for his curious friends till he had completed the whole of the travelogue.
The translation named In a Land Far from Home: A Bengali in Afghanistan was published and nominated for the Crossword Awards. This month, we not only run an excerpt from the translated essays but also have an interview with the former BBC journalist, Afroz, who tells us not only about the book but also of the current situation in ravaged Afghanistan based on his own first-hand experiences. Nazes himself has travelled to forty countries, much like our other interviewee, Sybil Pretious, who has travelled to forty and lived in six. She had been writing for us till she left to complete her memoirs — which would cover much of history from currently non-existent country Rhodesia to apartheid and the first democratic election in South Africa. These would be valuable records shared with the world from a personal account of a pacifist who loves humanity.
We have more on travel — an essay by Tagore describing with wry humour vacations in company of his niece and nephew and letters written by the maestro during his trips, some laced with hilarity and the more serious ones excerpted from Kobi and Rani, all translated by Somdatta Mandal. We have also indulged our taste for Tagore’s poetry by translating a song heralding the start of the Durga Puja season. Durga Puja is an autumnal festival celebrated in India. An essay by Meenakshi Malhotra explains the songs of homecoming during this festival. It is interesting that the songs express the mother’s views as highlighted by Malhotra, but one notices, never that of the Goddess, who, mythology has it, gave up her life when the husband of her own choosing, Shiva, was perceived by her family as ‘uncouth’ and was insulted in her parent’s home.
In spirit of this festival highlighting women power and on the other hand her role in society, we have a review by Somdatta of T. Janakiraman’s Wooden Cow, translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Kannan, where the protagonist upends all traditional values ascribed to women. Another book which is flavourful with food and would be a real fit on every festive occasion is Mohana Kanjilal’s A Taste of Time: A Food History of Calcutta. Bhaskar Parichha tells us in his review, “In the thriving universe of Indian food books, this clearly stands out.”
As Kamata’s book travels across two continents in a pre-covid world, Sunil Sharma in reality moved home from one continent to another crossing multiple national borders during the pandemic. He has written an eye-opening account of his move along with his amazing short story on Gandhi. Another unusual story creating a new legend with wonderful photographs and the narrative woven around them can be relished in Nature’s Musings by Penny Wilkes. This time we have fiction from India, Malaysia, Bangladesh and America. Steve Davidson has given a story based partly on Tibetan lore and has said much in a light-hearted fashion, especially as the Llama resumes his travels at the end of the story. Keeping in step with light humour and travel is Devraj Singh Kalsi’s account of a pony ride up a hill, except it made me laugh more.
Former Arts Editor of Times of India, Ratnottama Sengupta, has shared an essay on how kantha (hand embroidered rug) became a tool to pass on information during the struggle against colonial occupation. The piece reminded me of the narrative of passing messages through mooncakes among Chinese. During the fourteenth century, the filling was of messages to organise a rebellion which replaced the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) with the Ming (1368-1644). Now the filling is delicious lotus paste, chocolates or other edible delicacies. Women were heavily involved in all these movements. Sameer Arshad Khatlani has highlighted how women writers of the early twentieth century writing in Urdu, like Ismat Chughtai, created revolutionary literature and inspired even legendary writers, like Simone de Beauvoir. There is much more in our content — not all of which has been discussed here for again this time we have spilled over to near fifty pieces.
We have another delightful surprise for our readers – a cover photo of a painting by Sohana Manzoor depicting the season titled ‘Ode to Autumn’. Do pause by and take a look at this month’s issue. We thank our writers and readers for their continued support. And I would personally like to give a huge thanks to the team which makes it possible for me to put these delectable offerings before the world. Thank you all.
Suzanne Kamata is an American writer, academic, and a fiction editor, who resides in the Tokushima Prefecture, Japan. She has authored or edited 14 books including, memoirs and award-winning books. Her anthology The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan (1997) was nominated for the Kiriyama Prize. She is a winner in the best novel category of the Half the World Global Literati Award. The Baseball Widow (2021) is her latest book.
The Baseball Widow (2021) is the tale of the life and aspirations of a passionate young American teacher Christine as she juggles through encounters in a multi-cultural setting and with having a child with special needs. Christine falls in love and marries Hideki Yamada, an aspiring Japanese high school baseball coach despite the complicacies that may arise due to cultural differences. She settles down with Hideki in Japan with dreams of teaching English and travelling to lower income Asian and African countries to help the underprivileged with English language skills.
Their daughter Emma has cerebral palsy. She is wheelchair bound and communicates through sign language. Emma is named with love after Queen Emma of Hawaii (1836-1885), who promoted a multicultural outlook. Their younger son Koji is sensitive and undergoes bullying in school because of having a specially abled sister. Stereotypes and societal judgments over their cross-cultural marriage, having a child that needs frequent hospital visits and extra care, and the other child getting harassed in school are a constant sources of anxiety for Christine and Hideki. Moreover, Hideki’s wholehearted dedication as a coach, who considers his baseball team as his first “family” and as someone who takes the demands of his job seriously, heightens Christine’s responsibility as a wife and a mother in the family.
The story has a lot to offer for cross-cultural enthusiasts. Through a host of characters, one gets to look closely into some aspects of life in Japan and into a mish mash of cultures. Interestingly, Kamata also manages to juxtapose the perspectives of Japanese and Americans on baseball as a sport, schooling, varying rituals of birthday celebrations, ways of coping with old age, accent issues, food culture, mannerism, a father-daughter relationship that Kamata calls “skinship” and so on. The story takes a larger overtone as it gives a glimpse of experiences on the notion of the term “Hafu”, which means a Japanese biracial. Half-Japanese or half-American, both in Japan or in America, such persons seem to face more societal hurdles than advantages. Additionally, the main plot along with the other sub-plots has a lot more to speak about relatable experiences of cross-cultural encounters in terms of love, education, health, travel, companionship, and the expectations and realities of life and relationships in general.
Kamata gives a unique take on disabilities and disparities of life experiences through Christine and her family’s experience with their own family and society. As parents, Christine and Hideki tried to cater to the needs of both the children and stay strong. Even though, their family was often subjected to gossip and rumours born of Emma’s condition, they reconciled to her disability. As Koji was victimised, they struggled to change him to a private school. They struggled to make life better for their children and family.
The story runs in two parts. In the first part, Kamata takes the reader back and forth from present day to a flashback as she introduces us to the story and the myriad themes of the novel. The story starts with Christine and her views on Japan and her life in Japan. She sets off to Thailand on a mission to help Cambodian refugees. She walks through her dream of helping needy and disenfranchised kids exploring the bigger questions of dreams and reality, love and longing, and the purpose of life. Experiencing a sort of “compassion fatigue” and looking at the brighter side of life, she returns to Hideki and Japan with hopes for a better future. Hideki coaching the baseball team at the Tokushima Kita High School dreams big and works hard to secure a place for his team to the prestigious national baseball tournament at Koshien. Kamata beautifully portrays how life is complicated with love, dreams and responsibilities through the shorter stories within the framework of the main narrative.
Part two of the novel takes a new turn as Christine comes to her mother’s place in South Carolina for a vacation and she meets her old school friend Andrew, an American Iraq War vet, whom she got to reconnect through the Internet. A fatal attraction and an affair ensued to bring out the raw side of reality. Hideki speculates saying, “… there was no such thing as pure joy, that even the greatest happiness was tarnished somehow, temporary, but worth striving for all the same”. Christine motionlessly undergoes strong emotions as she sees Hideki in the hospital. He too reminisces over lost time with Christine that he over dedicated to his career and reaches out to Christine to start all over again saying, “… Please come home”.
The Baseball Widow is a gripping novel that powerfully explores issues of responsibility, disability, discrimination, violence, dreams, love, longing, health, career, parenting, youth and old age through a cross-cultural spectacle. Hope and forgiveness overrule the human flaws in the story. Christine positively declares “everything is fine!” about Emma’s disabilities to rise about the surprise, pity, apologies and embarrassment of daily encounters. Beautifully embellished with an exquisite watercolour artwork cover by Giorgio Gosti, dark yet shaded in harmony, humour and positivity, The Baseball Widow will touch lives across ages, genders and cultures.
Gracy Samjetsabam is a research scholar at the Manipal Institute of Communication (MIC), MAHE, Manipal. She is also a freelance writer and copy editor. Her interest is in Indian English Writings, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies, Culture Studies, and World Literature.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
The mother of a soldier once told me she did not agree that winning a war was a solution to peaceful living. She said, “If our army kill the enemy, some other mothers lose their sons; some other wives are widowed; some other children lose their fathers…”
Her summation of the war seems like an accurate description of the current day scenario. While politically the bombs that killed 140,000 in Hiroshima and 74000 in Nagasaki on 6th and 9th August respectively(1945), destroyed two cities, ended the Second World War (1939-1945) which claimed a total of 70-85 million lives over six years and led to the celebration of VE Day (Victory Europe Day), can we afford such horrors of violence and annihilation again? This is a question that remains in the grey zone as nuclear non-proliferation looks like agreeing to peace because the terror of war frightens. Will we ever have a world where peace is loved for the sake of what it brings and not for the fear of annihilation?
Writers in this special commemorate the horrors of the atom bomb and write their plea for peace. While American-Japanese writer, Suzanne Kamata, and Manjul Miteri of Nepal explore victimhood, Michael Burch talks of the Enola Gay, the legendary bomber that dropped “Little Boy” and annihilated a whole city. He reflects on the testing that continued on Bikini Island and further to ‘maintain peace’. We also have the words of Kathleen Burkinshaw who continues impacted by this terror — though it was her mother who was the hibakusha or survivor of the bomb blast. We round up this section with Candice Louisa Daquin’s reflections on peace and the reality as it is.
Oh Orimen! A poem in Nepalese about a victim of the blast written by a sculptor, Manjul Miteri, who while working on the largest Asian statue of the Buddha in Japan visited the museum dedicated to the impact of the blast. The poem has been translated to English by Hem Bishwakarma. Click hereto read.
Kathleen Burkinshaw is the daughter of a woman who survived the Hiroshima blast. Burkinshaw suffers neural damage herself from the impact of the bomb that her parent faced. She has written a book called The Last Cherry Blossomrecounting her mother’s first hand experiences. Her novel has been taken up by the United Nations as a part of its peacekeeping effort. She has been actively participating in efforts to ban nuclear weapons, including presenting with Nobel Laureates. Click here to read the interview.
“Nothing can be unconditional: consequently, nothing can be free.”
“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”
-- George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists, Man & Superman (1903)
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), a great writer and playwright, used these epigrammatic lines to bring focus on what people thought was liberty or freedom from oppression, from regimes that were dictatorial. While discussing concepts of freedom, one does wonder if political freedom solves all humane issues, occasions we celebrate with great aplomb, like the birth of a nation.
This month started with the observance of July 4th, the date of the American Revolution in 1776 and the publication date of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in 1855. In between these two years, in 1789, ten days down the line, on July 14th, another significant occurrence has been handed down by history to be celebrated as the Bastille Day— the day prisoners were freed from Bastille, a major event that led to the overthrow of the insensitive monarchy in France, a symbolic resurgence of the common, exploited man that has often been seen as an inspiration for later uprisings to reinforce the concept of democracy or liberté, égalité, fraternité.
As we move forward in time, towards August, one wonders if liberty attained by these means was good for all fellow humans? France was part of the Allied Forces that with America taking the lead dropped not one but two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945, to end the Second World War. Did the ends justify the means? Reflecting the cry and suffering of these victims, we have poetry from Suzanne Kamata, a well-known writer from Japan. Michael Burch on the other hand has shared poetry with us which shows how the nuclear programme continued unrepentant despite the devastation it caused. One must give kudos to the descendants of the victims of the nuclear blast that they have forgiven the perpetrators, admitted their own hand in the Second World War and moved ahead. In that spirit, we have an essay on peace by Candice Louisa Daquin, who joins the Borderless team as a writer-in-residence.
We have much happening in poetry this time with an interview of American poet Jared Carter, a recipient of number of awards and fellowships, including the Walt Whitman Award and the Guggenheim fellowship. He walks us through how he created the poem ‘Yeti’ (first published in the May edition of Borderless) and talks of the impact of artifacts from China and India on his own thought processes, the impact of Du Fu (712-770) and much more. We have a poem in Du Fu’s style this time by George Freek and an interesting poem with a Chinese title by Carter, a title that can have multiple connotations and yet each seems to fit the poem perfectly.
Rhys Hughes has brought humour into our pages with both his poetry and essay on William Mcgonagall, who bore the sobriquet of the worst writer in the world through his life and had things thrown at him when he read his poetry in Dundee. Yet, his work survived the beatings, and he lives on known as the ‘Scottish Homer’.
More poetry by Singaporean poet Marc Nair gives us a glimpse of the little island as viewed by someone who has grown up on it. Poetry is always multi-hued, and we have Lorraine Caputo transport us to a Garífuna village in Honduras. Penny Wilkes takes us ‘Down the Path of Nostalgia’ with a mix of old and new photography, prose and poetry on how almost a decade after the end of the Second World War, she started her love affair with photography and nature. It hovers between poetry and musings, and this time we have a rare musing by Jared Carter too. Devraj Singh Kalsi continues cogitating with wry humour while arranging bookshelves. We also have the backpacking granny visitingIndonesia. Post sharing this trip, our granny — Sybil Pretious — plans a little break from publishing to complete her memoirs.
A riveting flash fiction by Kaiyi Tan celebrates the spirit of conquest in these dark times, weaving into the pandemic lore the quest for personal freedom. Stories this time carry a real life one by Jean Kortum on adoption — her own struggle. But then, stories can be real or unreal – draw a bit from both to reflect bigger truths or create alternates that sink into the human mind as a perceived reality and leave an imprint deep inside the heart, like that of Niles Reddick. My conviction is that some lived experiences of writers seep into each story, whether it is from Bangladesh or India or by our literary fictionist, Sunil Sharma. His narrative continues infused by suspense.
We have a complete translated story of Tagore by Radha Chakravarty as our book excerpt this time. ‘The Parrot’s Tale’, ostensibly part of a children’s collection, reflects Tagore’s response to conventional schooling — a reason for him to start Shanti Niketan perhaps. She has also shared two of her translations of Rabindranath’s songs from Bhanusingher Padabali (1884, Bhanusingh’s verses). Chakravarty generously consented to an interview and has given us a glimpse of her journey as a translator and critic. We also have translated a long poem by Tagore on our pages, a poem that inspires hope, though it was named Dushomoy (1897, Bad Times) finally. The original name had been Swarga Patthe (On the Path to Heaven) as can be seen from a page in his diary. We have been fortunate in finding a recording of his voice reciting the poem in Bengali and the print of a sample page of the manuscript bearing his signature.
Keith Lyons from New Zealand in his very brief essay has quoted American novelist William Faulkner, “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” And perhaps we need to remember this if for no other reason, then, just to maintain our own sanity in these strange, almost unreal times as we attempt to unite as humankind to free ourselves from an unknown and unfathomable virus.
In a more sombre note, last week, untroubled by the virus, a victim of cancer, Bollywood legend Dileep Kumar, aged 98, breathed his last. Ratnottama Sengupta adds an unusual colour to the Borderless Journal with her tribute to this hugely acclaimed actor. In the process, she unfolds for us a brief history of the Indian cinema, and a glimpse of a world that transcends all man made constructs in quest of perfection.
We have an interesting set of reviews this July. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Anuradha Kumar’s riveting short story collection, A Sense of Time. A murder mystery for young readers, Murder at Daisy Apartments by Shabnam Minwalla, has been reviewed by Gracy Samjetsabam. The Third Eye of Governance–Rise of Populism, Decline in Social Research by Dr N Bhaskara Rao, reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha, seems to be a non-fiction that looks forward to bridging gaps between academia and the real world, a truly felt need. Parichha has also given us an essay on a man who inspired Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, to make him a part of his lore, a journalist who moved around all of Asia with equal aplomb and a sense of humour – a truly global citizen called Richard Hughes.
I want to thank all our wonderful contributors for making this edition a reality. And readers, we leave you to explore the unknown… like that place we call outer space. A huge thank you again to not only all our wonderful contributors, our faithful readers but also to the fabulous Borderless team scattered across the world.
Before I wind up, a little bird trills a song of hope in my ear. Business tycoons have started stepping into the mysterious void of space to eventually – let us hope — create affordable travel for common man, though it has started off as an expensive proposition. Will this be an industry that will generate more jobs on and off Earth and find new places for man to inhabit? After all, when George Bernard Shaw wrote his plays and essays, we had yet to cross the frontiers beyond Earth, had never even thought of flying across the world in budget airlines or mining moons!
Will we have a new world, a new outlook and a new set of hopes and aspirations as we stretch the frontiers of our home planet?
Wish you all a wonderful month of reading and thinking.
Three moving poems on the nuclear blasts that ended the Second World War and the lives of many innocents in Hiroshima & Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945, respectively.
Hiroshima School for GirlsAugust 6, 1945
The day began like any other:
all of us lined up for morning
drills beneath a clear sky,
mock wooden rifles propped against
our shoulders. Suddenly there was a sharp
blue light like a camera flash.
We tossed our
guns aside, dropped to
the ground, thumbs in
ears, fingers over
eyes to protect
them from damage
just as we’d practiced.
(Published first in Skipping Stones)
At that Moment
I was in the schoolyard
singing the Student Brigade song
when a B-29 flew overhead.
A verse appeared in my mind:
on the the bloody
battleground of Saipan.
After the flash
the city, destroyed
transformed into ruins.
Next thing I knew
I was sitting in a field
gazing at clouds of dust
houses without roofs.
Rain began to fall
drops drumming on
the ground, my body
staining my uniform
with brown spots.
Everything around me was
Burnt people lay along
the riverbanks. A woman
stared from swollen sockets
her hair charred
only a wisp of clothing on
her shoulders. From her
My child! My child.
Etsuko left home wearing
baggy pants and a straw hat,
school bag on her back.
Men and women
drifting from Hiroshima
Etsuko didn’t return.
Clinging to hope we searched
through smoldering rubble
heaps of corpses, among
ravaged victims pleading
for water, begging for help
naked women stooping at
At 6 p.m.
we headed home.
Someone said, “Etsuko’s here!”
But she was scorched, every
limb swollen, her eyes blinded.
“I was with a friend,”
Etsuko said. “We went
west with the wind
crawled across the train
bridge, came back to Koi.”
I brought her to the
emergency clinic where scores
were treated, died anyway.
The next day, Etsuko
opened her eyes. A miracle:
“I can see!” she said.
”Good. We’ll be going
Etusko gazed at me
and departed this world at
(“At that Moment” and “My Daughter” were first published in When Women Waken)
Suzanne Kamatawas born and raised in Grand Haven, Michigan. She now lives in Japan with her husband and two children. Her short stories, essays, articles and book reviews have appeared in over 100 publications. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times, and received a Special Mention in 2006. She is also a two-time winner of the All Nippon Airways/Wingspan Fiction Contest, winner of the Paris Book Festival, and winner of a SCBWI Magazine Merit Award.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
Book Review by Gracy Samjetsabam, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Resilience and recovery can be learnt from a survivor of the Tohoku earthquake as the protagonist learns.
Title: Indigo Girl
Suzanne Kamata is an American writer, academician and fiction editor based in Tokushima Prefecture, Japan. She has authored or edited 14 books including, award-winners Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible (GemmaMedia, 2013), Squeaky Wheels: Travels with My Daughter by Train, Plane, Metro, Tuk-tuk and Wheelchair (Wyatt-Mackenzie, 2019), Pop Flies, Robo-pets and Other Disasters (One Elm Books, 2020), Indigo Girl (GemmaMedia, 2019); and other novels, travel writings and short stories. Her next novel The Baseball Widow (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing) will be published in October 2021.
Indigo Girl is a story of Aiko Cassidy, an aspiring manga artist and a confident and sensitive 15-year-old bicultural teenager with cerebral Palsy. She is raised in Michigan by a single mother who is a sculptor and for whom, Cassidy is her muse. When her mother marries Raoul, her Hispanic step-father and he moves in with them, there was hope for her adoption and completion of a dream for a perfect family. But when a baby step-sister arrives, she starts feeling tugged at the margins.
In the meantime, she gets invited to spend three months in rural Japan in Tokushima in her biological father’s home, who is an indigo farmer. She sees it as an occasion to explore the hitherto unknown link of her life and root her belonging. She planned well in advance and looked forward to experiencing and fitting in into her role as a half-Japanese. However, her vacation in Japan is filled with shocks and surprises in contrast to her initial excitement and imaginings. She had conjured up images of her stay and even thought of the summer-break in Japan as a means to provide inspiration for her manga story, Gadget Girl, if not anything else.
The meeting of cultures and the clash of expectations and reality sets in, as she travels deeper into lives of people in Japan. Cassidy has her many complaints and concerns as a differently-abled teen stuck in-between the construct of family and relationships. In the conditions rendered by marriage, or in coping with grief and loss of a young one, or in turning homeless, or in living the life of a refugee, she comes across the many complicated truths and realities of people.
She meets Junpei, her Japanese half-brother, who dreams of getting out into the world as a young boy but for his predicament in being the sole heir to the 200-year-old family farm and the indigo farming legacy. Obashan, her grandmother obsessed with the love and loss of Kana, her younger Japanese step-sister to leukaemia, ignored the existence of Cassidy, her other granddaughter. Mariko, her Japanese step-mother, whose silence spoke louder than her words was more like a friend to her. In her Otosan’s (father’s) house, she figured out a lot was left unsaid but decided to speak out her heart and build bridges on the rift between her father, her father’s family and her.
Cassidy confronts her father by juxtaposing their places as characters in fiction and in reality. While they discuss the Italian opera, Madame Butterfly, her father gives his own point of view and she does hers to realise how complicated life’s choices and what we become are. Every small experience through participation in the family trips, visiting people, stories, visits to parks, temples and shrines made her culturally and personally wiser. She realises that “Change is inevitable” and that “life goes on”,
Cassidy’s story is a stand-alone sequel to Kamata’s book Gadget Girl, as it uniquely represents the story of a differently-abled child’s quest for greater clarity on her desires and the reality.
In her brief stay, having come from the West and with cerebral palsy, she attends a bilingual school and is introduced to all as Junpei’s cousin. She falls for Taiga, an upcoming figure skater. He respects her feelings for him, becomes a good friend. From his dedication to his profession, she learns the art of persistence against self-doubt. She tells Taiga that she is not Junpei’s cousin and Taiga says it is not a secret to many at school. She gets conscious of being called “disabled”, “bastard”, and “unwanted”. She draws inspiration from the resilience and learns to hope to “begin again” from Kotara, a refugee of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster which killed 15,500 people, caused a nuclear power plant meltdown and damaged the economy, making many homeless to this date. Kotara was one of them. Taiga’s understanding, Junpei’s sibling bonding and her friendship with Sora and other manga enthusiast members in the club at school, make her feel as one with them.
Today’s continuously growing multicultural world needs more diverse stories. Kamata does her share of diversity writing by touching on issues such as biracial upbringing, single motherhood, divorce, re-marriage, step-children relationship, sibling rivalry, sibling bonding, trust, jealousy, parenting, love, death, disaster, refugees, stereotyping, stigmatisation, differently-abled children and inclusion. Kamata beautifully brings up the unconventional and often untouched areas in fiction with warmth and understanding. Family secrets, rituals, traditions, and what is spoken and what is left unspoken, speaks in volumes about the lives of people. The characters voice relevant issues with ease and confirm the importance of writing and speaking out on the many challenges and realities of life.
Kamata’s love for writing blends with the love of a mother in her works to reflect experiences of a multicultural, multilingual, multiracial and multi-abled world.
In the beginning of the story, Cassidy talks about her present self and her trip to her real father’s home in Japan and puts her condition as: “I’m in the sky. Here above the clouds, I’m in limbo: between America and Japan, between the past and the future. It’s weird, but for once I feel as if I’m where I belong.” In the concluding chapter, she again says, “And then I’m in the sky again, above the clouds. Between Japan and America, the past and the future.” The experiences in between, though happy and sad, come as a treat to the reader.
I would call Indigo Girl a heart-warming and compelling coming-of-age novel, a must read.
Gracy Samjetsabam teaches English Literature and Communication Skills at Manipal Institute of Technology, MAHE, Manipal. She is also a freelance writer and copy editor. Her interest is in Indian English Writings, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies, Culture Studies, and World Literature.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
Suzanne Kamata is different. She is a mother writing for her children, who are uniquely placed in Japan – products of syncretic lore, an American mother and Japanese father. Recepient of a number of prestigious awards, Kamata represents the best in the mingling of the East and the West. Her writing flows well and is compelling — exploring areas that are often left untouched by more conventional writers.
Kamata has lived in Tokushima Prefecture, Japan, for more than half of her life. She is the author or editor of 14 published books including, most recently, The Spy (Gemma Open Door, 2020), a novella for emerging readers; the middle grade novel Pop Flies, Robo-pets and Other Disasters (One Elm Books, 2020) which won an American Fiction Award and was recently released as an audiobook; and Indigo Girl (GemmaMedia, 2019), winner of an SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and named a Freeman Book Awards Honor Book, as well as one of the Best Chidren’s Books of 2019 by Bank Street College. Her work also appears in The Best Asian Travel Writing 2020 (Kitaab, 2020), The APWT Drunken Boat Anthology of New Writing, What We Didn’t Expect: Personal Stories About Premature Birth ( Melville House Publishing, 2020), Inaka: Portraits of Life in Rural Japan(Camphor Press, 2020), and The Phantom Games (Excalibur Press, 2020). Her adult novel The Baseball Widow is forthcoming in October 2021 from Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing.
When and why did you move to Japan? What made you start writing? At what age did you start writing?
I came to Japan to work as an assistant English teacher on the JET Program in 1988, shortly after I graduated from college. I’d wanted to experience living abroad for a year or two before I began my “real job,” which was not yet determined. I partly wanted to accumulate material for writing future stories and novels. I started writing as a child and never quit. I think my love for writing developed from my early love for reading.
What was your first book and how did it come about?
The first book that I published was actually The Broken Bridge: Fiction by Expatriates in Literary Japan (Stone Bridge Press, 1997) an anthology of short stories by foreigners who lived or were living in Japan. I’d read an article about editing anthologies, and I read several short stories by expatriates in Japan which I felt deserved a wider audience, so I wrote a letter to a publisher that specialised in books about Japan with the idea of a collection. Little did I know, I wasn’t the first person to come up with such an idea, but I was perhaps the most persistent, so even though I was only in my twenties and had only published a couple of short stories in obscure journals, the publisher was willing to give me a shot at it.
What influenced your writing? Books, authors, music? And how?
My writing style is probably most influenced by reading. Early on, I was strongly attracted to the minimalist style of Ann Beattie and I tried to imitate that. Some other influences would be Marguerite Duras, particularly the collage aspect of The Lover, and Lorrie Moore’s dark humor. As far as subject matter goes, I am influenced by confluences of culture, by travel, by motherhood, by my daily life, and sometimes by quirky facts that I come upon.
You have a book called Losing Kei, in which a child born of a mixed marriage is torn by cultural differences and the parent’s inability to adjust to each other’s heritage. It has been compared to Kramer vs Kramer. Why the comparison and do you think it is justified?
Kramer vs. Kramer is about a custody battle, so I can see why my publisher used that comparison. I don’t know of any other novels about in-court custody battles over children of international marriages published at that time, so I think it’s more or less apt. In Losing Kei, the father is granted full custody of the couple’s son, against the mother’s wishes, but the child, Kei, is mostly taken care of by his grandmother. In the movie, the Kramer father is taking care of his son by himself because his wife has deserted them, but then she tries to get her son back.
Having grown up in America, do you actually think of the Japanese culture as ‘repressive’ or ‘xenophobic’ as says author Ellis Avery, author of The Teahouse fire, while commenting on Losing Kei?
Hmm. Things are changing, a bit, but I think that there is still a lot of resistance to foreigners in Japan. During the pandemic, which is on-going as I write, for a time only Japanese nationals were allowed to leave and re-enter the country. If a permanent resident – even someone with a home, job, and family – were to leave Japan during the early part of the pandemic, they weren’t allowed back into the country. Many foreign residents have seen this as discriminatory. Laws have changed, since I first arrived, allowing more foreign workers to come to Japan, but I think a lot of people worry that an influx of people from other countries will change Japan, and not in a good way.
You often write on or for children. Is there a reason for it?
I started writing for children when my own children were small. Being biracial/bicultural and living in Japan – and disabled, in the case of my daughter — their experiences were quite unique and rarely represented in books, so I tried to write a few stories to help fill that gap.
Squeaky Wheels, your immensely moving novel that won the inaugural Half the Globe Literati award (Best novel) in 2016, explores a mother’s travels with a child on a wheelchair. Can you tell us how this book came about?
Thank you so much for your kind words! Although the book won the award for “novel,’ it is actually a memoir of traveling with my daughter. When she was around twelve, she declared that she wanted to go to Paris. At the time, I was working as an adjunct, and we didn’t have a lot of money. So, I came up with the brilliant (ha ha) idea of writing a proposal for a book on traveling with my daughter, who is deaf and uses a wheelchair. It would be, I proposed, like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, but in different countries – France, not Italy; Japan, not Indonesia – and it would explore issues of accessibility in each country. I knew that Gilbert had gotten a huge advance to write her book. I also knew of a father of a child with autism who had gotten a million dollars to write a book about taking his son to visit a shaman in Tibet to be cured or whatever. So, I thought that I had a shot. No publisher, however, was willing to give me a contract and an advance to fund our trip, but I had a pretty decent book proposal by then, which I used to apply for a grant. I was extremely fortunate to be awarded a generous grant by the Sustainable Arts Foundation. We went to Paris, and I wrote the book.
Your last novel was Indigo Girl. The Kirkus Review said it was “a lovely sequel that focuses on finding strength in one’s self and maintaining hope when all seems lost.” It was a sequel to Gadget Girl. Tell us a bit about the two books.
A lot of people think that Gadget Girl, the story of the fourteen-year-old daughter of an American mother and Japanese father who has cerebral palsy, is based on my daughter’s actual experiences, but that’s not really true. I started writing the book when my daughter was quite small. I wanted to write a book that she might be able to enjoy as a teen. The main character, Aiko, is an aspiring manga artist, who has grown up as her sculptor mother’s muse. I wrote frequently about my children when they were small, so I imagined what my children might feel about those stories once they hit adolescence. In the first book, Gadget Girl, Aiko travels to Paris with her single mother. In the follow-up, Indigo Girl, which is a stand-alone sequel, Aiko visits rural Japan in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown) to finally connect with her biological father, who is an indigo farmer.
How many books have you authored? Are they all centred around young adults or children? Which one did you enjoy writing the most and why?
I have authored 12 including a picture book, a couple of titles for emergent readers, a short story collection, a memoir, three novels for adults (one forthcoming) and four novels for younger readers, the most recent of which is Pop Flies, Robo-pets and Other Disasters (One Elm Books, 2020). The first two novels that I wrote (but not the first two that I published) were The Mermaids of Lake Michigan (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, 2017) and Screaming Divas (Simon Pulse, 2014), which were both initially intended to be adult novels, but which concern young adults. When I wrote those books, I was in my late twenties/early thirties, when I felt that I didn’t have enough distance or perspective to write about my adult experiences. And then later, I intentionally wrote for children and young adults. It’s really hard to say which one I enjoyed writing the most, but Squeaky Wheels was fun for me. I loved traveling with my daughter, and I loved reliving those experiences when I was writing and revising the book. And writing nonfiction is a lot easier than writing fiction.
You teach at Naruto University of Education. What is it like to teach students who have been brought up in an entirely different culture from you? How does this experience translate to your own writing?
Japanese students tend to be a bit conservative, so I am always striving to open their minds, and to help them see that being receptive to other cultures and travel can be mind-blowing as it has been for me. I also learn a lot from them, because their upbringing has been so different from mine. One very concrete way in which teaching has affected my writing is that I have started to write stories for emergent readers. I realise that a lot of my books are too difficult for the average Japanese reader of English, but many students are interested in reading my writing. So far, I have written two hi/lo books for the Gemma Open Door series. These books are short, and the level of language is a bit easier.
How has the pandemic affected Japan, you and your work?
Japan hasn’t suffered as greatly as many other nations, perhaps because it is a mask-wearing culture, and also because as soon as news of a break-out aboard the cruise ship the Diamond Princess appeared, people started being cautions. In Tokushima, where I live, there have been fewer than 400 documented cases since the start of the pandemic. Since I haven’t had to travel for conferences, and I have been teaching online, things have been pretty calm and peaceful. Surprisingly, I have written quite a bit. I actually started a new novel!
What are your future plans? Do you have a new novel/books in the offing?
I hope to continue writing and publishing! I have a couple of adult novels – a historical novel, and one set slightly in the future – in progress, as well as a few picture book manuscripts that I have been tinkering with. In October of this year, my adult novel The Baseball Widow, will be published by Wyatt-Mackenzie. I started writing it shortly after I finished Losing Kei, but I abandoned it a few times. Anyway, I am happy to announce that it will finally make it into print! It’s a family drama about an international/interracial marriage in crisis told from multiple points of view. I hope you will enjoy it!
This has been an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL