A Gift From My Grandparents

Book - 2014
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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, Ont. : HarperCollinsPublishersLtd., c2014.
ISBN: 9781443417983
Characteristics: 245 pages :,illustrations, portraits ;,24 cm.


From Library Staff

Defended by Jeanne Beker.

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Jan 11, 2021

This book recorded how the author's grandparents struggled to survive and keep on to their humanity within a world without humanity; how his parents being kept alive by each other, yet they chose separation eventually; how Mark, the author, was inspired and motivated by the bond of his grandparents, which thrived in a massive war and, most importantly, the differences between people. Throughout the book, the title "Forgiveness" keeps the stories' oppressive mood optimistic and bright, which lets the readers feel hope during desperate times. I would recommend this book to all age groups that have background knowledge of the Second World War because it's vital to understand why the war was started and why people were willing to use desperate measures. 5/5 stars
@Truffle_Waffle of the Hamilton Public Library's Teen Review Board

Dec 04, 2019

A very emotional read; the true story of two families enveloped by the atrocities of the Second World War and their acceptance of the harshest cruelty in letting go and moving on. I recommend this book to anyone who has deep bitterness and unforgiveness to truly realize how difficult it must have been for the people in this book. It really left an impression and I highly recommend it.

Aimee M Trudel
Sep 17, 2019


Aug 26, 2019

Tea & Talk Book Club / November 2018

Jun 07, 2019

I was excited about reading this book based on the summary -a real life biography by a man whose paternal grandmother was a Japanese-Canadian woman who lost everything to the Canadian government during WWII and his maternal grandfather who had been a Japanese POW. It boggled my mind thinking, "what are the chances that this could even happen in one family" let alone how they would forgive. I expected an amazing story about how these two grandparents-in-law would get beyond their horrible ordeals to teach Forgiveness to their children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, I was disappointed as I found that the first half of the book detailing the terrible ordeals of the Japanese woman and the POW rather weakly written... I think the author was trying to write it like a fictional novel to add flavour (maybe) but, while the ordeals were horrible, the writing didn't work for me. And once the war was over, the story veered away from the grandparents and moved on to the parents and the author himself which I also found distracting... I was much more interested (and expected from the title) to hear about the journey the grandparents had to come to a point to be able to Forgive what they'd endured and become a tight-knit family.... how did they learn the lessons they gifted to their grandson? So, a great topic and an absolutely amazing tribute to two very significant Canadian heroes, in my mind, but, unfortunately for me, not particularly well-written or captivating.

Jan 29, 2019

This book was surprisingly poorly edited and written. Even though it was able to effectively convey the story, it was not properly organized and there seem to be too many characters mentioned to follow along. I think this book had lots of potentials to tell a powerful story but it did not use it. Although this book does not use great writing stance, I think this does teach people a very important lesson; war does not benefit anyone. In Ralph's case, he is imprisoned in a POW camp and endures labor, hunger, and disease. I think this does accurately interpret the situation of an American POW in a Japanese camp. Meanwhile, a Japanese family is forced out by the government and sent to work in the fields at Alberta for a meager wage.

I rated this book a 7/10 because of it's lackluster writing stance and I believe that it could almost have been a rushed book. The editor does a poor job of organizing paragraphs and train of thought. I think this book could have been a lot better than it was.

Jan 28, 2019

I sincerely wish this book had been better written and/or edited. The stories are compelling and well-told in themselves but the relationships are often bewildering. Basically, the author's mother was the daughter of Ralph MacLean, a Canadian POW. His dad (Ron?) was a first-generation Japanese-Canadian, son of Mitsue Sakamoto and her husband Hideo. Other names and relatives drift in and out with little sense of their importance in the narrative.

SurreyLibrarian 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!

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Dec 04, 2019

Like her love, Mom's forgiveness was a tough forgiveness. It was years in the making. It had peaks and valleys. But Miya Mitsue had brought me to the journey's end. My heart was her home. She deserved room to grow, to be free, to smile.
My mom's final gift to me was forgiveness. It was the hardest lesson she ever taught me.
I was finally ready to let her go.
Saying goodbye, really saying goodbye, is the hardest thing we humans do. We make stuff up--to avoid its searing pain.

How very true.

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