A Gift From My Grandparents

Book - 2015
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WINNER of CBC Canada Reads

Finalist for the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction and the OLA Evergreen Award

#1 National Bestseller

When the Second World War broke out, Ralph MacLean chose to escape his troubled life on the Magdalen Islands in eastern Canada and volunteer to serve his country overseas. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Mitsue Sakamoto saw her family and her stable community torn apart after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Like many young Canadian soldiers, Ralph was captured by the Japanese army. He would spend the war in prison camps, enduring pestilence, beatings and starvation, as well as a journey by hell ship to Japan to perform slave labour, while around him his friends and countrymen perished. Back in Canada, Mitsue and her family were expelled from their home by the government and forced to spend years eking out an existence in rural Alberta, working other people's land for a dollar a day.

By the end of the war, Ralph emerged broken but a survivor. Mitsue, worn down by years of back-breaking labour, had to start all over again in Medicine Hat, Alberta. A generation later, at a high school dance, Ralph's daughter and Mitsue's son fell in love.

Although the war toyed with Ralph's and Mitsue's lives and threatened to erase their humanity, these two brave individuals somehow surmounted enormous transgressions and learned to forgive. Without this forgiveness, their grandson Mark Sakamoto would never have come to be.

Publisher: Toronto :, Harper Perennial,, 2015
Edition: Harper Perennial trade paperback edition
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9781443417983
Branch Call Number: 940.5472 SAK
Characteristics: 245 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm


From the critics

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LibrarianMariya Jan 17, 2019

/Submitted by Pippa/

Sakamoto’s account of his maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother is compelling reading. Both experienced the effects of World War 2 – his grandfather in a Japanese POW camp and his grandmother the hardships of BC’s forced relocation of its Japanese residents and citizens. We get a detailed look at their upbringing and lives, giving us tremendous insight into the times and character of these people, which is thoroughly engaging.

The book changes after the first half when the author begins his own story, particularly when he focuses on his mother’s journey into alcoholism and poverty, but it still leaves a deep impression on the reader. Instead of dealing with the theme ‘forgiveness’ between two people, in fact two families, with powerful reasons to hate each other, the subject is briefly glossed over. You’re left to assume they nobly put the past behind them when their children marry but are barely mentioned in the second half. Sakamoto is definitely not a great writer, some of his historical facts are incorrect, and the book feels disjointed, but I still recommend it as worth reading. It won the CBC’s Canada Reads in 2018 which says more for its champion, Jeanne Beker, than the book itself, but again, its content holds a strong message for us all.

Jan 12, 2019

This is the way history should be taught. Not some dry textbook account that leaves you unable to connect with the people involved, even if you sympathize with what they have been through. The fact that you are treated to both sides of the story, so to speak, is a bonus. I learned a lot from this book and highly recommend it. Really did not think it would be my kind of thing but I could not put it down.

TechLibrarian Jul 04, 2018

I was pretty certain that I wouldn't like Forgiveness, this year's Canada Reads winner, as much as I liked another of the contenders, The Marrow Thieves. I am really pleasantly surprised to have been wrong in making this assumption! Mark Sakamoto's writing style is just lovely--descriptive but not too flowery or sentimental--and the story unfolds as if it was a novel. Furthermore, the subject matter is strikingly relevant to some current events, so it provides an opportunity for critical reflection as to how the past can repeat itself. Ultimately, this book promises a lesson in forgiveness, so it's not a downer, though the characters (the author's grandparents) endure awful hardships. This would be a great book for a book club discussion, or for anyone who has experienced trauma, and I just generally think it's a good book that most people would be able to get into, regardless of their usual reading preferences. See for yourself!

Jun 26, 2018

What a wonderful book. Thank you Mark Sakamoto for sharing 'your' story. I shed tears over the way the men were treated in the POW camp and more tears for the treatment of Canadian people of Japanese decent. I admire the strength and bravery of your ancestors. Sorry for your mother's decisions and the eventual consequences. You are who you are because of those who came before you.

May 18, 2018

Thank you Mr. Sakamoto for sharing your grandparents’, as well as your own, stories: one grandparent whose whole family suffered racial hatred when they took the bold step to move from Japan to Canada. If that weren’t enough, a few short years later, were forcibly interned when WWII broke out. The other grandparent, who fought in the war against the Japanese when he was stationed in Hong Kong, experienced all the atrocities that goes with being at war. Most can guess that these two sets of grandparents end up linked in the form of a grandson named Mark and Forgiveness is the story of how that came to be.
As far as World War II is concerned I knew about the Germans, lots about the Germans. I knew the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. I knew China was involved. But I had no idea that Japan invaded Hong Kong and that there were Canadian troops stationed there. Hong Kong is where Sakamoto’s grandfather was stationed. I liked how the story delves into parts of our past that aren’t at the forefront of our history books. It certainly was an eye opener for me. It inspired me to research more about the relationship between China and Japan and why the Japanese entered the war on the side of the Germans, especially given the fact that in WW I they were on the Allied side, assisting the British and later the Americans by offering troops, naval assets, etc.
My attention wasn’t as riveted towards the last half, but the grandparents’ excellent story made my worldview a little bigger.

debwalker Mar 29, 2018

Canada Reads winner for 2018. How to forgive the unforgivable?

Mar 18, 2018

This title is catalogued at my library with the WWII history books, no doubt because a section of the story describes the experiences of a Canadian prisoner of war who survives horrific conditions in a Hong Kong prison camp, and later as slave labor in Osaka. But this is not the whole story.

There is no competition between the various horrors endured by Canadian citizens robbed of their homes and businesses, forced into working dirt farms in rural Alberta, and the desperate captivity of a family witnessing a loved one be destroyed by alcoholism. Pain is pain, and there is no need to rank one as worse than another. That so many survive these troubles and emerge as healthy adults is a miracle and a testament to the power of forgiveness and love.

What saddened and surprised me is how ignorant I was about the crimes committed against Canadian citizens. Despite growing up in Vancouver, I had no idea what had been done to the people with Japanese ancestry during the war years. As we continue live in a society bitterly divided by racism, it shouldn't have been a surprise, but the details were new to me. I'm glad to have finally read this slice of history.

Feb 04, 2018

This book is difficult to define. Upon starting out, I thought it was a political commentary about the idiocy of war and how everyone involved on both sides lost. I thought he did a phenomenal job of showing that the harshest treatment of the Japanese prisoners of war in Hong Kong (Grandfather MacLean's part of the story) was comparable to the losses felt by Grandma Mitsue and her family undergoing prisoner-of-war conditions in Canada (the Sakamoto side of the story). Both the Sakamoto's and MacLean's showed grace in how they handled the awful, unfairness of the war and how they got on with their lives without bitterness. Then somewhere about page 203, it became about family, family dynamics, what we owe family, and Mark's guilt as the oldest son in a Japanese family, who is supposed to ensure that his family stays strong and cohesive. I thought that this book has a lot of heart, and is populated by kind, ethical people. I took away the message that no matter how hard you try, sometimes things just don't work out as you expect, but you can still grab the goodness that is there. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

BPLpicks Jan 30, 2018

Place your hold and watch Jeanne Becker defend this book at the Canada Reads debates held March 26-29.

Whoever edited this book deserves a demotion or a dismissal. The prose style is mostly fine and often quite wonderful but it is also quite inconsistent with some very abrupt and oddly-placed sentences. And it reads a bit rough in places. I did enjoy Sakamoto's attention to detail in the WWII-era stories. I cared for those people and felt for them. There were many injustices all around but I felt there were far too many leaps and gaps in the narrative. The vignettes were fine but their arrangement could have been much better to weave a better, more coherent narrative. The editor failed on that front. Similarly, I didn't much care about the people in the latter portion of the book. The connections between the people and timelines was almost incidental. There is a distinct absence of threads between characters and timelines. Other characters we come to know and care for early on are all but abandoned. We needed more stories here. We needed better narrative cohesion.

However, where this book really got under my skin was in its shoddy editing. I'm an editor and a typo here or there is bad enough (such as the "Unties States") but over and over again Sakamoto gets historical facts wrong, badly wrong, which a good editor should have caught and fixed. For example, he talks about taking a boat from Pictou, PEI. Impossible, Pictou is in Nova Scotia. He talks about Japan restricting the number of passports issued to Canada. That's not how passports work. I think he's talking about visas. In a scene in post-war BC, he talks of nationalistic hysteria by people wrapping themselves up in the "Canadian flag" which is impossible, the Canadian flag did not exist until 1965. And, he gets facts wrong - basic, common facts - of the one of the two atomic bombings of Japan. He states Nagasaki got hit at 3 o'clock in the morning when, in fact, it was hit second just after 8 o'clock in the morning. How in hell can you get that so wrong? How could that not be corrected? It's an important point of historical accuracy.

While some readers may not care over these details, it left me wondering what else did Sakamoto get wrong? Was he careless? Was he writing creative fiction or alternate history? I thought this was supposed to be a true story. I started to doubt everything he wrote and that is absolutely the wrong thing a writer of a historic memoir wants to instill in the reader. In the end, I was vastly disappointed. This should have been so much better and fuller.

I read this as part of the CBC Canada Reads 2018 longlist.

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