Shaena Lambert: Radiance



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I bet on this book for the BC Ethel Wilson Book Prize this year I lost the bet but I m still proud of my pick Is about a Hiroshima victim who comes to the US in the early 50 s to have scars emoved She lives with a home mother and is supposed to be made perfect by a TV doctor and then help to promote an anti nuclear message The Japanese girl is a very dislikable person and I found it hard to get into the story and then once absorbed she and most of the other lead characters were so unpleasant I had little interest in their lives I m not a fanI had no issues with Daisy s character even if she was a little bland Keiko annoyed me uite a bit Her depiction ang a bit false The story itself felt full of unimportant things I liked the imagery but other than that I can t say I liked much elseOverall the novel was pretty bland and unmemorable Wonderful ead Beautifully written I thought the Ethel Wilson prize was going to come down to either this or Mary Novik s Conceit And I ll bet it did The whole time I was eading this book I kept hoping it would get better After only 100 pages in I was already fighting to finish telling myself that I would get interesting but I didn t Well written Sure Engaging Not so muchOn the cover they liken Lambert to the talents of Munro and Proulx and I can see the comparison in the story telling I had never ead any Lambert before and the book was selected by my book club for the month of November At the present we have yet to discuss the book but I can tell you that I have few nice things to sayIt was just plain boring I can see how this book would have been better as a short story but as a 300 page novelwellzzzzz Radiance by Shaena Lambert Reviewed by Beth Coleman Imagine you are a woman who has lost a child at birth It s whisked away Years later you still long to see the child Being a kind American housewife of 1952 with a lovable but boozy adio writer husband and with a suave friend spearheading the ban the bomb movement you see a chance to help a child an orphaned girl on the brink of adulthood a Japanese girl whose beautiful face has been hideously scarred in Hiroshima She is coming to New York to eceive free plastic surgery and become the poster girl for ban the bomb You see a chance to be her host mother But you have no idea of what you are getting into This is the premise of Shaena Lambert s wonderful novel Radiance The best of intentions of Daisy the housewife leads her into challenging emotional and political situations that involve her marriage her suburban neighborhood and her elationship with the enigmatic Keiko Stereotypes are shattered good causes do bad things secrets are submerged and lies bubble under the surface It is a novel about survival insight and hope in difficult times and it is written with textured layers developing believable characters that esonate I started by eading Shaena Lambert s short story collection The Falling Woman and was drawn nearly all the way through an accomplishment by Lambert to snag this impatient eader The emotional subtleties and ambiguities in Radiance were altogether heroic how easy it would have been for a writer to nudge the eader into liking the good guys disliking the bad guys but here there are no bl The time is 1952 and Keiko Kitigawa a girl injured in the Hiroshima bomb attack has come to the United States She is brought to the US by a committee working to prevent bombs and bomb tests from happening In eturn for her speaking out against the bombs as a victim they will give her plastic surgery to emove the scars she has on her face from the blastDaisy. Later when Daisy emembered that night she could smell the scent of honeysuckle at the window and see the moon on the floorboards But in her memories Keiko wasn’t bandaged her face was broken down the middle just like the moon One half was pure and white the other half mottled and porous The unbroken side was as smooth as porcelain terrifying in its brightness but in every memory it was the pocked side that drew Daisy in From Radiance p 192It’s 1952 Eighteen year old Hiroshima survivor Keiko Kitigawa arrives in New York City for surgery to cut away the scar marring her lovely face Sponsored by The Hiroshima Project Keiko is expected to be a media darling “The Hiroshima Maiden” selected for her scarred beauty and for the talent she briefly evealed to Project doctors in Japan for putting words to the inexpressible horrors she has witnessed But the Keiko who arrives in America does not perform as scripted preferring to ecall instead her grandfather’s dappled gardens and tales of trickster foxes Frustrated

Lawrence will be her host mother while she is in the US Daisy and her husband Walter live in the suburbs of New York City on Long IslandKeiko tells of the fox legends her grandfather told her ather than of her experiences on the day of August 6 1945 She keeps herself tightly under control except for certain timesThese times are in the nights at the Lawrences house where she walks in her sleep and confesses her fears to Daisy in the dark bedroom As Daisy and her connect Daisy grows protective and yet Keiko always everts to her public face during the dayThe elationship between the two women is a fascinating one While Keiko s thoughts are a mystery to us we see from Daisy s point of view the connections and frustrations that exist Keiko feels compelled to do what she has agreed on for her surgery but also feels unhappy about this decision The time and place are given so well that you feel what life was like in the American suburbs of the 50s Daisy is an educated woman childless and a homemaker The elationship between her and Walter is a complex one as well and shown ather than describedThis book has depth and feeling to it and is a wonderful ead It s 1952 and New Jersey housewife Daisy Lawrence waits at Mitchell Air Force Base for the plane that brings 18 year old Keiko Kitigawa from Japan Daisy is hosting Keiko who is no ordinary home stay guest but a Hiroshima Maiden a survivor of the bomb the ecipient of free American plastic surgery to emove her scars and a poster child for the anti bomb movement that funded her trip Once Keiko s disfigurement has been epaired the sponsors of The Hiroshima Project will take her on tour to give testimony of the bomb s devastation Shaena Lambert has chosen a complex and unnerving period in American history for RADIANCE Immediately following the Second World War the United States is the most powerful nation in the world with the most powerful weapon in the world But the McCarthy Hearings make Americans doubt their country s internal stability Keiko s arrival only seven years after the end of the war adds enough disruption to stir emotions to the surface in Daisy s small world Her neighbor once a POW esents Keiko s presence The Resident s Committee wants to meet about the home stay situation which Daisy did not discuss with them beforehandAnd then there is the Hiroshima Maiden herself scarred yet beautiful a vulnerable and passive canvas who engages the imaginations of the Americans around her A young photographer sees his dead sister in Keiko and courts her Daisy s husband Walter finds himself telling Keiko things he s never told Daisy Irene a social climbing journalist who has attached herself to the Hiroshima Project believes that Keiko is a cynic who understands perfectly the implications of speaking out against the bomb in exchange for surgeryDaisy is not so sure Keiko is formal and distant but Daisy s generous maternal instincts sense fear in the young woman a eluctance to ecite and elive memories of devastation and the deaths of her family Daisy s conviction that Keiko needs to back out of the publicity tour propels her from being an amiable and inoffensive homemaker to a determined if ineffective advocate for KeikoKeiko could so easily have been a grateful cooperative character but then Lambert s tale would have been far too transparent Who is being manipulated What lies do we tell so that we can face ourselves The Hiroshima Maiden eveals to us the people around her she becomes a focal point for their guilt ighteousness self delusion and awkward truths But we catch only glimpses of Keiko s true. Y her ecalcitrance the Project presses Keiko’s suburban host mother Daisy Lawrence into duty tasking her with drawing out the girl’s horrific story the one they need for the media circuit When Daisy eluctantly agrees she must fight to enter Keiko’s sphere of intimacy and is shocked by what she learns thereLike Keiko Daisy has a few surprises in store for the Project Her gentle maternal character has been vouched for by her long time friend Irene Day the glamorous Manhattan women’s columnist who ecruited her But even Daisy is taken aback by what bubbles up from beneath her calm domestic existence in Riverside Meadows drawn to the surface by Keiko’s presence Life will never be the sameAlso deeply affected by Keiko’s stay is Daisy’s husband Walter a nearly extinguished literary light whose off Broadway play once garnered critical acclaim He has been fighting for years with a hopelessly unfinished manuscript obsessing over the tragic story of a friend who fell victim to the turmoil of Stalinist Russia

Shaena Lambert È 5 Free ead

Feelings layered between her own guilt nightmares and memories of the unspoiled Hiroshima of her childhood What I Learned About Writing from Reading This BookI believed that for a metaphor to be effective it had to un through the fabric of the novel invisible but omnipresent When I was writing my own novel I had wanted to use a iver as metaphor for memory but ended up ipping it out It was just too unsustainable trying to inject watery images everywhereAnd OK I just eally eally wanted the chance to use iparian somewhereFor me the most evealing passages in the book were Keiko s ecollections of childhood especially her time with her grandfather who told ghost stories about bakemono fox spirits Maybe it s because I m Chinese but I could not help gravitating to this metaphor of a shape shifting creature subject of countless folk talesIn Asian ghost stories the fox spirit usually takes on the form of a beautiful woman who tricks her way into marriage with a human husband sometimes she even gives him children Then one day after years of apparent bliss the fox spirit is unmasked usually by an outsider The conseuences of the man s elationship with the fox spirit depend on whether the spirit is evil or helpful yet there is always a wistful sort of ambiguity about the fox spirit even if it turns out to be evil After all she spent all those years playing the part of a devoted wifeThe challenge with the fox spirits metaphor is that it needs to cross cultures to conjure up a world of meaning for non Asians But instead of bringing it up and offering context at every turn I see now that setting up a metaphor can be entirely separate from how it is evoked Lambert confines mention of bakemono to the Hiroshima of Keiko s memories the shrine near their home guarded by twin fox statues her grandfather s stories about fox spirits how he could name all the species of foxes Whether or not you are acuainted with Asian ghost stories you understand these stories eside deeply within Keiko s beingThus when Keiko tells Daisy that her mother used to call her little fox child she is signalling her unreliable nature to Daisy in the most obvious way possible for a Japanese yet without evealing herself And when the fox spirit manifests in America it is only as a sound the swish of an animal tail in her hospital oom when Keiko hallucinates about her mother It is a momentary delusion but after this the fox spirit comes to mind can t help but come to mind in all its ambiguity its true purpose hidden from humans as we ealize that Keiko is emaking herself transforming into the Hiroshima Maiden her sponsors want her to beMetaphor is so contextual and often specific to culture If I had chosen to use fox spirits it s very likely I would been ineffective I would have used fewer words while setting up that metaphor simply because it s so ecognizable to me that it would feel heavy handed to do and clumsily tried to pull it freuently into the narrativeRADIANCE einforces an important lesson that when you are writing for a multi cultural audience you need to create eferences that are accessible and at the same time trust in your eaders intelligence to make the connection In her novel Lambert does this by ensuring we understand the personal significance bakemono carries for Keiko even if we don t grasp fully the nature of fox spirits Then delicately and deliberately with just the flick of a ghostly tail she sets the metaphor in motion Shaena was gracious enough to let me interview her ead here Writing as beautiful as a bonsai garden characters that made me ache Loved this book. Ut Walter is haunted by another event in his past something that happened in the shadows of the McCarthy trials and that he has never divulged to his wifeKeiko bandaged after her surgery like the Invisible Man becomes a conduit for secret grief A barrage of letters and gifts from strangers arrive at their door Riverside Meadows housewives a photographer covering her story and even a former Japanese held POW heap their weightiest confidences upon her Perhaps it is the force of her tragedy that pulls them in or perhaps it is because her bandages make her seem like a blank eceptacle for their own pain Whatever the cause Daisy finds it increasingly difficult to find the eal Keiko beneath these burdens But she will fight with all her strength to protect the girl even at incalculable costSet against the backdrops of the Atomic Age and McCarthyism Radiance is a precise and nuanced endition of an historic time depicted through a highly intimate lens and driven by acts of great love terrible betrayals and immense compassi.

I started writing fiction in 1992 when my son was a toddler a leap into the unknown and frightening as at that time I was a single mother But with the help of an explorations grant from the Canada Council I was able to keep writing I have lived in Vancouver Toronto New York and the Okanagan but for the last decade I have been back on the West Coast in Vancouver where many of my stories