In her memorable first novel, first published twenty years ago, Kerri Sakamoto takes a deeply shattering look at one of the darker eras in Canadian history.
Set in a small Ontario town in the 1970s, the novel opens with the discovery of the beautiful Chisako and her lover dead in a park. In the ensuing investigation, suspicion immediately falls on Chisako's husband, Yano, who abruptly takes their two children and moves away, leaving the community afraid for the children's fate. At the same time, the town's inhabitants are forced to confront the dark shadow of their past, and its aftermath on the citizens of the community.
It is Chisako's neighbour, Miss Saito, who tells the story. Living on a farmhouse overlooking a field of electric towers, Miss Saito lives mostly alone, duty-bound to care for her invalid father and only encountering her sullen younger brother for supper. Her own memory a fractured collage of past and present, Miss Saito recounts her observations--of Chisako and the bruises that were and weren't there, of the abuse Miss Saito herself faced in her younger years at the hands of her father, and of the destruction wreaked by the aftermath of the Japanese internment on mind and spirit, culture and pride of the Japanese-Canadian citizen.
What starts as a murder mystery unravels into a melancholic rumination on pain and survival in a hostile world. The Electrical Field crackles with the same intense electricity as the towers that fill it.
About the author
- Winner, Canada-Japan Literary Awards
- Short-listed, Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel
- Winner, Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel
- Short-listed, Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize
- Short-listed, Governor General's Literary Awards - Fiction
- Long-listed, IMPAC Dublin Award
KERRI SAKAMOTO was born in Toronto in 1959, the younger of two sisters. She has written scripts for independent films as well as writing extensively on visual art. In 1998 her first novel, The Electrical Field, was a finalist for a slew of awards -- the Governor General's Award, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award -- and won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book and the Canada-Japan Literary Award. Sakamoto also wrote One Hundred Million Hearts, published in 2004, and her third novel, Floating City, in 2018.
Excerpt: The Electrical Field (by (author) Kerri Sakamoto)
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."
"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