Artful Blogger

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Frances Itani’s new work is a Japanese-Canadian requiem

Frances Itani's newest book, Requiem, comes out in September. Photo by Ivor T. Evans, courtesy Quill & Quire.

A new novel by one of Ottawa’s most accomplished literary voices, Frances Itani, hits bookstores this September.

Requiem tells the story of a Japanese-Canadian visual artist who has just lost his wife. Left alone, the widowed Bin Okuma finds himself reluctantly pulled into memories of when he and other Japanese-Canadians were interned during the Second World War. A fateful journey begins.

“Now, he sets out to drive across the country to complete the last works needed for an upcoming exhibition; to revisit the places that have shaped him; to find his biological father, who has been lost to him,” according to Itani’s publisher HarperCollins. “It has been years since his father made a fateful decision that almost destroyed the family. Now, Bin must ask himself whether he really wants to find him. With the persuasive voice of his wife in his head, and the echo of their great love in his heart, he embarks on an unforgettable journey that encompasses art and music, love and hope.”

As is her practice, Itani did massive research for this book to make sure every detail has the ring of truth. Among those she consulted: Norman Takeuchi, an Ottawa artist of Japanese-Canadian descent who infuses his work with a melange of his Canadian identity and his Japanese heritage. But don’t go looking for too many similarities between Takeuchi and Itani’s character. Takeuchi’s wife is very much alive.

Itani speaks some Japanese herself and is married to a Japanese-Canadian, Tetsuo Itani, a retired major from the Canadian armed forces. (The two eloped when young. “It’s great fun,” she said in a 2003 interview with the magazine Quill and Quire.)

Earlier novels by Itani include the much celebrated Deafening, which was inspired in part by the life of Itani’s own deaf grandmother, and the more recent Remembering the Bones, the story of an elderly Canadian woman en route to the Queen’s 80th birthday. Another book of linked stories, Leaning, Leaning Over Water is sometimes also described as a novel. That book borrowed heavily from Itani’s own childhood in Deschenes, an Outaouais village near Aylmer. Additionally, Itani has published several books of short stories and poetry.

Frances Itani reads from her new book on Friday, Sept. 23 as part of the Kingston WritersFest and on Thursday, Oct. 20 as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival.

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