At the library the other day, I did two things that I never do. First, I walked in with a self-imposed limit to get no more than ten books. Then when I was looking for the books I wanted, I grabbed random books off the shelves because they looked interesting. This is so not me. I am not that girl. Indie Sister is that girl, but I am not that girl. I get books I’ve heard of, or at least books I’ve seen around several times before and I can’t take the curiosity anymore.
Well, this isn’t like that. I liked the title and I liked the cover and the blurb so I just grabbed it, and I read it while I was waiting for the Cox people to come set up cable at my brand-new! closet-and-counter-space-rich! townhouse! apartment!
Why She Left Us is all about a Japanese-American family and their secrets. During the second World War they were all in internment camps (or whatever they’re being called these days), and it was damaging for everyone. The story goes back and forth between past and present, and between the points of view of different family members at different times in their lives. The grandmother is telling the story to her granddaughter Mariko, and Mariko is finding out secrets as an adult; and then you have the points of view of Mariko’s mother’s brother, Jack, and Mariko’s brother Eric, at different points in their lives.
In a way this works really well. I have this ceaseless obsession with point of view. It’s something I loved about Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead – how you have the human point of view and then when you discover how the pequeninos see the same events, everything shifts. Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White and especially The Moonstone charm me, the way they use different narrators to tell different bits of the story. Barbara Kingsolver does it in Poisonwood Bible with amazing facility. Juggling points of view was one of the first things I remember mimicking when I was a kid. Why She Left Us does a cool thing – you get the points of view of the characters who react, but not the characters to whom people are reacting. The two most active characters, who create most of what everyone else responds to, you never know what they’re thinking; you only see how they affect the people around them. Wilkie Collins does it in The Moonstone, never using Rachel’s point of view, and it’s a technique I really like a lot.
On the other hand, I didn’t like it how one character narrated in first person while all the others are in third. I found the use of the present tense in the third-person characters sections jarring. It distracted me from enjoying the book as much. And then the whole thing was really sad and made me feel ashamed of our country. Especially Michelle Malkin, who still thinks internment camps were good.
I think I come out just about neutral on this one. The book was sad and in some ways disturbing, and I don’t know if I’d necessarily recommend it.