On his deathbed, Miyo's father utters the phrase, "Endure the unendurable." At that moment Miyo can only guess at his meaning. Motherless and slightly crippled since birth, accustomed to her father's tough care and their isolated life together in Canada, she feels for the first time alone in the world. Soon after his death, a new story begins to unfold of her father's other life--the wife and daughter in Japan, where for a time he served as a pilot in the Special Attack Forces, a kamikaze who mysteriously survived.
Miyo's desire to understand her father is at the center of One Hundred Million Hearts, the second novel by Canadian Kerri Sakamoto. Miyo leaves her suburban home to search for her family's true history, a journey that takes her to Tokyo and the Japanese countryside. There, she enters the chaotic realm of her volatile half-sister Hana, an artist obsessed with Japan's military history and the widows of kamikaze pilots who gather each year to mourn their loved ones.
In language as sparse and unadorned as haiku, the sisters' stories wind together. Miyo grows to understand how Japan's "hundred million hearts" continue to suffer from war, betrayal, and loss. Though she grew up a continent away, she too grapples with her young father's conflicted allegiances and desire to live, and by the abandonment her sister endured.
Sakamoto's words almost seem painted rather than typed. Her writing is simple but not simplistic; each image feels painstakingly assembled. Metaphors--of resilient cherry blossoms and the thousand red stitches that comprised kamikazes' sashes--weave through a dense narrative. Shifting perspectives give voice to a handful of imperfect characters tied together by one man and a nation's history.
At its heart, this book tells stories of women--those who collected letters from their beloved soldiers, others who folded cranes to memorialize the dead at Hiroshima, and the few who lived to old age with the ghosts of the kamikazes. It tells of those daughters who sought to understand their parents and their homeland. Sakamoto and her characters understand that these women too were victims of war, and generations of them share the scars of their men.