cover image The Electrical Field

The Electrical Field

Kerri Sakamoto. W. W. Norton & Company, $23.95 (305pp) ISBN 978-0-393-04692-2

Set in the 1970s, in a bleak neighborhood of bungalows beyond which looms a field of imposing electrical towers, Sakamoto's memorable first novel explores the hidden anguish of Japanese Canadians as they struggle with the lingering effects of the WWII internment camps. The action of the novel takes place in the weeks after a Japanese-born woman and her Canadian lover are found murdered. The woman's husband, the prime suspect, abruptly withdraws their children from school and disappears, leaving everyone frightened about the childrens' fate. Narrating the story is Asako Saito, an unmarried, middle-aged neighbor, who devotes her life to caring for her ailing father and her youngest brother. Miss Saito is as wise as she is repressed, and in her years of friendship with the murder victim, Chisako, learned the unhappy truth about her friend's marriage to the man now suspected of killing her. As a detective investigating the murder questions the neighbors, Sakamoto brings this community of remarkable misfits to life through Miss Saito's thoughts and memories. Miss Saito is gradually revealed as a complex and riveting character whose own haunting memories of the internment camp and of her beloved older brother, Eiji, are woven deftly into the narrative. The spare intensity of the opening chapters gives way to the terrible beauty of Miss Saito's story. Shame and loss, immutable as the grim electrical towers, hang over Sakamoto's characters, but love also makes its distinct mark in this richly observed, elegantly restrained debut. (Feb.)