Reviewed by Cara LaVigne
“Kodomo no tameni… It means, ‘for the sake of the children.’”
Andrew Lam’s Repentance unravels the life of a dysfunctional family as he reveals the secrets of a soldier fighting during WWII in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit composed of Japanese-American soldiers. The title of the book, Repentance, is echoed by the main character’s father as he bears the weight of his past actions on his shoulders his entire life, as well as on his son, Daniel Tokunaga, as he begins to realize that his own actions are causing his family life to rip apart. Lam begins his novel in 1998, introducing the readers to Daniel’s astounding skills as a surgeon and a little bit of his family life. He then sends the reader to the year 1944 when the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was fighting against the Germans in the foothills of France. The novel continues to flip back and forth between 1998 and 1944 as the secrets of Daniel’s family begin to surface. Repentance takes readers on a journey through the eyes of two different generations and causes them to reflect on how their own actions can affect others, while also demonstrating the true meaning of self-sacrifice and love.
Daniel Tokunaga, the main character of the story, is a world renowned heart surgeon. As he is sending his twins off to college, he receives an unexpected call from his father, who informs him that his mother Keiko was in a car accident. Daniel quickly rushes to California, and realizes that his family’s past is not what it seems. He discovers that his father was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross while serving in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Department of Defense has been calling numerous times to discuss the award his father received. As Daniel learns more information of what happened in the foothills of France, he questions his father’s actions and struggles to see him as a hero until he gathers all of the pieces of the puzzle. As each new bit of information is revealed to him, he realizes how much guilt chained his father down, how much he sacrificed to recompense his actions in WWII, and how much love he had lost after the war was over. As Daniel heals from the emotional turmoil he went through because of his father, he works to create a better relationship with his family.
The way in which Andrew Lam reveals the past of Daniel’s father is like putting together a puzzle. Daniel listens to the accounts of multiple people who know different sides of the story, but not the story as a whole. He is the person who receives all of the information. It takes a huge toll on him emotionally as secrets that he was never supposed to know are uncovered. Certain accounts cause him to question his father’s actions, and he sees him as a cowardly person who destroyed several peoples’ lives because of a selfish act. However, as the full picture is revealed, he understands that his father sacrificed his own happiness in an attempt to make up for the past, though he did end up hurting more people with the path he took. This book causes the reader to be more aware of the actions they perform in their daily lives. It forces the reader to think about how they affect others around them. One simple action can change someone’s life forever. While Daniel’s father was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his overall actions in France, he will never forget the mistake he made, and how it cost people their lives. Even Daniel realized how he was affecting his family by never being around and ignoring their needs when he was in their presence.
Lam’s novel takes the reader on a journey with Daniel. As he learns information, the reader is just finding this out as well. The flashbacks to 1944 only reveal so much before the main character begins looking into his father’s past. Anyone reading his book will understand that something bad is about to happen to the characters that will cause Daniel’s father to regret his actions for the rest of his life, but they do not know the situation until the secrets begin to unravel. Rather than Lam disclosing details straightforwardly, the reader unravels the mystery right along with Daniel. Through this method, the readers build a connection with Daniel and his father at the same time, and they can use this connection to look at their own lives and decide if they have remorse for actions that have hurt those around them.
About Cara LaVigne
Cara LaVigne is a third-year student at Bridgewater College double majoring in English and Professional Writing. She currently works as one of the Writing Consultants available to other students at Bridgewater. Her longer works focus primarily in fantasy and realistic fiction, while her poetry has a broader topic range. Her fictional pieces are heavily influenced by fairytales and a deep fascination of mythical beasts and the unknown.