The Electrical Field

The Electrical Field

by Kerri Sakamoto
     
 

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When the beautiful Chisako and her lover are found murdered in a park in the 1970s, members of a small Ontario suburb must finally acknowledge certain inescapable truths about each other and the way their community has been shaped by the dark shadow of World War II internment camps. With all the suspense of a psychological thriller, The Electrical Field slowly exposes…  See more details below

Overview

When the beautiful Chisako and her lover are found murdered in a park in the 1970s, members of a small Ontario suburb must finally acknowledge certain inescapable truths about each other and the way their community has been shaped by the dark shadow of World War II internment camps. With all the suspense of a psychological thriller, The Electrical Field slowly exposes all those implicated in the murders - particularly Miss Saito, the novel's unreliable narrator, through whom we gradually discover the truth. Miss Saito, middle-aged, caring for her elderly bed-ridden father and her distracted younger brother, on the surface seems to be a passive observer. But her own disturbed past and her craving for an emotional connection will prove to have profound consequences. Kerri Sakamoto invokes a Japanese sense of the relativity of memory and the reliability of consciousness.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.)
Library Journal
Rarely does a debut novelist exhibit the skillful use of narrative that pervades this work. Miss Saito, the narrator of the story, is a middle-aged woman of Japanese heritage whose family was incarcerated in internment camps on the West Coast during World War II. She has spent her life "wanting the world my way, never to change, ever." Set in a suburban community in Ontario during the 1970s, this novel relates the murder of Miss Saito's neighbor Chisako and her lover. It is later discovered that Chisako's husband has killed their two children and taken his own life. During the investigation of these tragic deaths, Miss Saito's connection to the murders and her closely guarded secrets are disclosed. The memorable character of the protagonist and the smooth, unfolding narrative will encourage readers to remember this author's name. Highly recommended for all collections.--David A. Berona, Univ. of New England, Biddleford, ME
Elizabeth Hanson
Sakamoto...clearly knows the world Miss Saito inhabits....The strength of The Electrical Field lies in its portrayal of [this] world....[where] the enormous towers marching "like giants past the houses" are a constant reminder of the powerful furces that restrict her --just as firmly as the fences of that wartime camp.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A lugubrious debut novel describing a middle-aged woman's attempts to come to terms with the mystery of her best friend's murder. In comparison to most Westerners, the Japanese are famed for both their restraint and their highly developed sense of honor. This can make difficult burdens even harder to bear, of course, even after the passage of many years, just as it makes them harder to describe. In her narration, Asako Saito is well aware of this: "I had long ago understood you had to live in the midst of things to be affected, in the swirl of the storm, you might say. You couldn't simply sit and watch, imagining from time to time how such-and-such would feel, would be, what happened to others and not to you." Like most Japanese living on the West Coast, Asako and her family were interned in camps during WWII, and the shame of this particular memory has not subsided in the intervening 30 years. Now living in Ontario with her bedridden father and her younger brother, Asako has remained close to her friend Chisako, whom she knew from before the war years. Unhappily married, Chisako begins an affair with a Caucasian and confides her secret to Asako-whose distress soon turns to horror when Chisako and her lover are found murdered. Under the prodding of the homicide detectives, Asako is forced to consider certain aspects of her friend's life, and her own, including the possibility that Chisako's own husband may have killed her after learning about the affair from Asako herself. If your friend has betrayed her husband, must you protect her from discovery? If your friend murders his wife, must you protect him from arrest? Even if the authorities who pursue him are the same men whoimprisoned your own family? Tangled knots unravel slowly, especially when you're not very eager to see them undone. An impossibly snarled tale, told in beautiful prose, but few readers will manage to plow through the fractured and introverted narration.

From the Publisher
"Darkly beautiful.... Delicate, absorbing." — Saturday Night

"A haunting, harrowing tale that illustrates . . . more powerfully than polemics, the ravages of history on hearts and lives." — Joy Kogawa

"A stunning novel ... A major new force in the landscape of Canadian fiction." — The Toronto Star

"Extraordinary [and] insightful ... sure-footed and sophisticated [and] very moving." — The Globe and Mail

"Spooky, atmospheric, unveiling its secrets with uncanny assurance, Kerri Sakamoto's remarkable debut becomes impossible to put down. Not since Ishiguro's early novels has the Japanese experience on the New World been captured so subtly, and with such eerie and elliptical intimacy" — Pico Iyer

"Hypnotic, haunting, and utterly original. From within the mind of a woman scarred by war and injustice, Kerri Sakamoto illuminates that shadowy terrain where history meets illicitly with sexuality and human longing." — David Henry Hwang, author of M. Butterfly

"The Electrical Field, with its combination of bodily mystery and mental convolution, resembles such great gothic fiction as Wuthering Heights." —The Financial Post

"A ... darkly beautiful ... Kabuki-like elegance. Delicate, absorbing, The Electrical Field recognizes two hard truths: the only redress available to those betrayed by history is love; and, love is difficult to come by." —Saturday Night magazine, Book of the Month

"The Electrical Field bristles with memory and regret, passion and passivity. ... Kerri Sakamoto, with just one book beneath her belt, has established herself as a young writer of the first order." —The Halifax Daily News

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393320480
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
06/01/2000
Pages:
332
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.74(d)

Read an Excerpt

I happened to be dusting the front window-ledge when I saw her running across the grassy strip of the electrical field. I stepped out onto the porch and called to her. I could tell she heard me because she slowed down a bit, hesitated before turning. I waved.

"Sachi!" I shouted. "What is it?"

She barely paused to check for cars before crossing the concession road in front of my yard; not that many passed since the new highway to the airport had been built. Shyly she edged up my porch steps to where I stood. She was out of breath, her eyes filled with an adult's burden. "I don't know," she said, panting. "Maybe it's nothing."

The sweat glistened on her, sweet, odourless water, and it struck me as odd, her sweating so much — a girl and a nihonjin at that; we nihonjin, we Japanese, hardly perspire at all, and the late spring air was cool that day. I sat down to signal calm and patted the lawn chair beside me. She sat but kept jiggling one knee. Finally she stood up again. "Yano came and took — ," she began.

"Mr. Yano," I broke in, though everyone called him Yano, even myself. "He took Tam out of class this morning. Kimi too."

"Tamio," I corrected her, as if I could tell her what to call the boy, her special friend. As if I could tell her anything. "A doctor's appointment, maybe?"

She shook her head as a child does, flinging her hair all about. Though at thirteen going on fourteen, she no longer was a child, I reminded myself.

"Yano looked crazy," she went on. "Like I've never seen him. His hands were like this." She clenched her fists and gritted her brace-clad teeth: a fierce little animal. "He hadn't taken a bath, not for a long time," she said, pinching her flat nose and grimacing. "Worse than usual. Everybody noticed."

Meet the Author

Kerri Sakamoto is a Toronto-born writer of fiction as well as film and visual arts criticism.

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