Kerri Sakamoto’s latest novel, One Hundred Million Hearts, examines the concepts of identity and reality through the story of Miyo Mori, a young Japanese-Canadian disabled woman. Miyo is (over)protected by her father Masao, who encourages her dependency. The description of Miyo’s whiny childhood antics that drive a wedge between Masao and Setsuko’s romance made me want to shake her and to send her to counselling. I had serious déjà vu moments during the first chapter, and rightly so; this novel is based on a Sakamoto story that appeared in Toronto Life in 1999.
Miyo is not a likeable protagonist. At the age of twenty-seven she takes the subway to work for the first time and is promptly involved in a near-fatal accident. Enter David, who rescues her and becomes her new protector. Miyo drifts from one sheltered environment to another.
A photo of Masao, in full Japanese soldier regalia sits upon the family mantel in their Toronto home, and yet upon his death Miyo is stunned to find out that her father actually fought in the war. Miyo also learns that Masao and Setsuko married secretly and have a daughter, Hana, living in Japan. The power struggle between Miyo and Setsuko for Masao is renewed, only now it is over his ashes. They journey to Japan to place Masao’s ashes at Yasukuni Shrine and unite Masao’s daughters.
I was bothered by the novel’s changes in narrative, its vague timeline and setting. Miyo states her earliest memory is from the age of eight, but later in the novel recounts an incident when she was four. The title refers to the war slogan: one hundred million hearts beating as one (and that one is the Emperor). If you ever wondered how or why a culture would embrace and encourage suicide missions and glorify those who died for their cause (sound familiar?), then this is a novel for you. I predict this book will be on Women's Studies course lists and in remainder bins of countless stores across the continent.