Thursday, 28 January 2016

Mothertalk: Life Stories of Mary Kiyoshi Kiyooka, by Roy Kiyooka

Welcome to the Nikkei Book Club blog! The Nikkei Book Club is run by the Nikkei National Museum in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. More about us here.

The Nikkei community is full of great stories and great writers. When looking at all the wonderful literature out there, sometimes it's hard to know where to start! I'm taking some inspiration from the book selection in our little museum shop. We have quite a few literary gems in stock which I'd love to share and discuss with you. Whether you pick up a copy here at the museum, or find it at your local bookstore or library, I hope you'll join in the conversation with me.

We're starting off our book club with Roy Kiyooka's Mothertalk: Life Stories of Mary Kiyoshi Kiyooka in February and March. Part memoir, part translation, part oral history, it's not just an enjoyable read, but also an engaging personal look at the life of one issei (first-generation Japanese immigrant) Canadian woman, and a touching tribute to a close, but culturally divided, mother-son relationship.

This book has an intriguing history - Nisei poet and artist Roy Kiyooka wanted to write his mother's life story, but his Japanese, like her English, was only rudimentary. So he had his friend, a Japanese translator, interview her and create a rough translation of what she said. Roy then rewrote her stories to recreate the rhythm and spirit of her Meiji-era Tosa dialect of Japanese in English.

While still in the midst of this project, Roy passed away suddenly in 1994. His family then asked the poet Daphne Marlatt, Roy's former partner, to finish editing the book so it could be published. Marlatt tells the story in more detail in the introduction to Mothertalk.

Check back next week for some discussion questions on the first section of Mothertalk, "My Heart's True Country", about Mary's childhood and ancestral home of Tosa in Japan. There will be a blog post, and you can also follow along on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. We'll also be holding an in-person meeting to discuss the book once we've reached the end, on Saturday, April 2 at 2pm at the Nikkei National Museum in Burnaby (6688 Southoaks Crescent).

Until next week, happy reading!
Carolyn Nakagawa
Arts Administration Intern | Nikkei National Museum