Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeNuméros61Part 3 : Voyager pour lire l'écri...Dwelling with the Land and in His...

Part 3 : Voyager pour lire l'écriture de la terre mémoire

Dwelling with the Land and in History: River Scenes and Cityscapes in Frances Itani's Requiem and Sachiko Murakami's Rebuild

Lara Okihiro
p. 273-286


Le paysage est une partie importante de l'imaginaire social canadien et de l'histoire de l'exploitation du pays (des premiers colons européens au développement de l'oléoduc). Requiem, un roman de Frances Itani, et Rebuild, un recueil de poèmes de Sachiko Murakami, montrent tous deux la terre comme l'une des choses les plus précieuses prises aux Canadiens japonais pendant leur persécution par le gouvernement (1942-1949). Dans Requiem, le paysage est lié à l’histoire personnelle du protagoniste et conserve tout ce qui reste de tous les événements passés, ce qui en fait une source de réflexion et de guérison. Dans Rebuild, cependant, les tours en copropriété et les maisons construites pendant le boom immobilier de Vancouver ont pris le contrôle du paysage, effaçant l’histoire des peuples autochtones, et même des Canadiens d'origine japonaise, et engendrant une expérience de profonde désorientation et d'aliénation. Cet article analyse les expériences de la terre en tant que guérison et aliénation pour examiner ce que le roman et les poèmes nous disent sur notre relation contemporaine aux paysages : quelles sont les bonnes et les mauvaises manières de vivre sur la terre et comment devrions-nous vivre maintenant sur la terre ?

Top of page

Full text

  • 1 See, for example, the map "Education and First Nations."

1There can be no denying the significance of land in the Canadian social imaginary and in Canadian politics. As Northrop Frye, in his "Conclusion to a Literary History of Canada" describes, Canada appeared such a wilderness for European travellers and settlers that the experience of entering Canada for those coming from Europe was "a matter of being silently swallowed by an alien continent" (216). And, for those who ended up living in the country, Frye writes, "To feel 'Canadian' was to feel part of a no-man's land with huge rivers, lakes, and islands" (219). If one looks at map of schools on First Nations Reserves across Canada now,1 he or she probably still cannot help but feel how vast and various the country and its land are, even despite modern transportation and communication technologies making it easier than ever to visit and share in the country's many landscapes. Nowadays, many Indigenous groups are claiming their rights to land that was "never signed away by treaty or seized in war" (Cecco, "Pipeline Battles"), particularly as the government aims for reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Also, many oil companies and even the government are pushing to exploit the land to develop oil and pipelines. All of these, along with concerns for the environment and climate change, mean that land issues in Canada continue to be a pressing concern and have never been more complex.

2Given that landscapes are so much a part of the national feeling and politics, and that, in addition to being taken from First Nations people, land was one of the most valuable and meaningful things taken from Japanese Canadians during their persecution by the government during the second World War, it is no wonder that it plays a crucial role in two more recent texts referring to that experience. In Requiem, a novel by Frances Itani, Binosuke is an artist who paints landscapes, mostly rivers, and who drives across Canada after his wife's death to return to the internment camp where he lived as a child, spending his time along the way recounting his experiences, most exceptionally, as a child internee. In Rebuild, a collection of poems by Sachiko Murakami, condominium towers and houses built during Vancouver's housing boom have taken over the landscape, their foundations embedded in land that was never ceded by the Indigenous populations that formerly (and still) live there, and that, years later, was land from which Japanese Canadians, including the speaker's father, were forcibly displaced during the second World War. Itani's text suggests that land connects people to a deep sense of history. However, whereas Murakami's poems reflect a contemporary experience of being disassociated from the land and of no longer being able see, touch, or understand the land and its history, this paper will consider what these literary texts tell us about what it means to see, understand, and relate to the land in contemporary times: how do we live in and with the land now?

The River of History and Bin's Collection of Smalls

3The years of early exploration, colonization, and exploitation—when, as Frye writes, "Canada became a colony in the mercantilist sense, treated by others less like a society then a place to look for things" (3)—have, perhaps, not been left behind in Canada, which Murakami's work will show. However, despite this past, or even through it, Itani's novel imagines the Canadian landscape as intimately and thoroughly connected to history, making it a resource or power through which the characters can learn about themselves. The land contains objects and traces of the past, and by perceiving them and tending to the artefacts and stories that can be found therein, the characters cultivate larger and better understandings of the world and of their particular places in it. A main example of the strong relationship between land and history in the novel is the road-trip Bin takes following the death of his wife, which lasts for the duration of the novel. Bin travels with his dog, Basil, from his home in Ottawa to the interior of British Columbia, moving through the landscape: through the Canadian Shield, the prairies, and the Rocky Mountains. As he travels through the land, aspects of his surroundings—a parking lot in a park he had previously visited or the names of rivers he passes—inspire him to recall past experiences in his life, including his experience of internment, his separation from his family, and the mystery of his two fathers.

4Besides the road-trip, narrated simultaneously as a journey through the land and the past, Requiem draws the connection between landscapes and memory through Bin's "'obsess[ion] with rivers'" (224), as his wife, Lena, describes it. Bin finds himself always drawn to rivers, going to sit by them, watch them, and explore them. And, as a painter, they are a subject he paints so often his upcoming solo exhibition will contain only landscapes of rivers (16). Bin, we learn, so frequently returns to rivers (real and painted ones) because they remind him of moments from his past, even furnishing him with objects that prompt him to recollect rivers, places, and moments that were formerly significant to him. His collection of river objects includes:

From Long River in Prince Edward Island, a sandstone quill holder […]. A tiny glass whale with jagged flukes from the Saguenay. A palm-sized burl picked up on a trail near the Saco River in Maine. A delicate Bourgault carving of a man in a green toque, from the Saint-Jean-Port-Joli on the St. Lawrenc […]. [M]y tiny clay seaman, his left leg snapped below the knee […]. Lena and Greg chose him in a pottery shop in Cornwall while I was sketching outcrops on the lower banks of the Helford Estuary. (21)

5Bin recalls episodes from his past by tracing his life through the artefacts or gifts he receives from alongside the shores of rivers, so that the carving of a man reminds him of sitting "on a small rock behind the auberge […] watching the tide push back the great river" (21), and the broken clay seaman makes him think of his time in Cornwall with Lena and Greg, his son.

  • 2 Between March and October 1942, the Canadian government forcibly displaced nearly 22,000 people of (...)

6Moreover, these objects from the land connect to Bin's history through the way they relate to an intimate aspect of who he is and to his experience of being interned as a child. The river-objects he collects are all broken and damaged items, and his care of them makes him, as Lena describes, the "protector of fractured and broken goods" (22). The attention and protection he offers these artefacts from the land make Bin a hero of the smaller, broken, and uncared for things: the details of the landscape and the details of his own personal history that are plotted through these objects and along these rivers. Most notably, his care for the little, broken things reflects and channels his experience of dispossession and displacement, when, as a child, he and his family, along with all Japanese Canadian families, were forced from their homes on the coast of British Columbia and into internment camps, losing nearly everything in the process.2 From the experience, Bin gained a deep appreciation for how there could always be "sudden losses" (Requiem 276) and of the fragility of things in one's life. Things can break, be taken, and disappear. And Bin and his community can be reduced to poverty—whereby his parents feel they do not have the means to provide for all their children as they want to—within months. As a consequence of his material and emotional losses, Bin becomes a particularly careful keeper, collecting even damaged items, tending to them, and giving them a place in his home.

  • 3 Another character concerned with history and historical objects in the novel is Bin's neighbour, Mi (...)

7Along with connecting Bin to his past experiences, including being incarcerated, dispossessed, and reduced to poverty, landscapes with their rivers and their small, fragile objects (items without exchange or market value) also represent a larger sense of history and life in Requiem. For example, the most significant river for Bin is the Fraser River that flows close by the location of the camp where Bin and his family were interned. It is personally significant for Bin because he passed a wonderful day picnicking and swimming there with his parents and siblings, which he later learns was his last day living with his family before going to live with Okuma, his second father. In the novel, however, the Fraser is not only meaningful for Bin, but consequential in many characters' lives: it sustains them, is a site of celebration, and remains a scene of trauma. Men habitually go to the Fraser to fish for food and families go for leisure outings, structuring their lives around its ebbs and flows. Yet, another family is ruined by the river when their small boy drowns (241). As Okuma describes their immense and arbitrary power, "‘Rivers sustain and nourish […] but they can also take life away'" (241). As such, rivers represent all facets of life for those who inhabit the landscape and whose lives are touched or taken by the force of the river. Similarly, in the children's tale, "Momotaro," a Japanese tale Okuma tells him about a boy who floats down a river in a giant peach, Bin recognizes that such river stories are never about one character but are associated with many other characters and tell their stories, too. Bin notes that "Momotaro" is not just about the peach boy but also about the old man and woman who adopt him, among others (197). Indeed, for Bin, all rivers, not just fictional ones, tell all kinds of stories. For example, the names of rivers refer to stories and histories traced in the landscape. Moreover, Bin comes to believe that if we listen to rivers correctly, we can hear them speak. Responding to his son's question about whether rivers have voices, Bin says, "‘I do hear the river […]. I listen because it has a story to tell. Sometimes many stories'" (167). However, river landscapes are not the only ones that connect the characters to life and to each other's stories and histories in Requiem. As Bin states of the interest his wife, an historian, has for collecting rocks and fossils, for Lena, "physical landscape was one more dimension of history" (61). In this sense, the landscape, its rivers, and the objects they give the characters—its fossils and its broken figurines— connect them not only with each other's personal histories and unique stories of the recent past, but to all histories of the past and even to prehistory, the remains of these pasts having been deposited in the layers of the landscape or accumulated on its rivers' shores. Thus, the landscape, in the novel, contains the remnants of all life and of all experiences, offering a profound sense of history and life.3

8Because rivers in the novel represent both the particular aspects of Bin's life and story, as well as the lives and stories of all others, the novel stages a tension between the individual and the larger force of life and history as a vast current moving into the future of which the individual is a barely recognizable part. We might imagine this tension in terms of Freud's discussion of the force that inevitably moves forward (Life) as it drives toward death, and against or through which the individual tries to stake her own claim, resisting or staying this movement, and thereby making her own little something (or nothing) of her life before her inevitable death (see "Beyond the Pleasure Principle," 331 ff.). Or, as Catherine Malabou describes the idea of the life of the individual in a larger sense of historical processes:

In the usual order of things, lives run their course like rivers. The changes and metamorphoses of a life due to vagaries and difficulties, or simply the natural unfolding of circumstances, appear as the marks and wrinkles of a continuous, almost logical, process of fulfillment that leads ultimately to death. (Ontology of the Accident 1)

  • 4 Besides allowing Bin to reflect on his experience, widening the perspective on the internment to in (...)

9By representing all of history, as well as the individual histories of how people are bumped, thrown, or try to stay movements of life and time in their own unique ways, the rivers and landscapes in the novel suggest how the individual is connected to all others and to all of history. As all stories and histories exist in rivers and are traced in the landscape—coming from and returning to them—the novel encourages a view of characters as ultimately all related to each other and to all of history. This ethical view, which sees the relationship between all characters, how their histories are implied in each other, and thus how everyone is to some degree responsible for each other, allows Bin to reflect on his experience as not just being about his own personal pain and losses and to recognize them as part of a larger horizon. Doing so helps Bin to not be so stuck in his experiences, or to not "disappear into gloom" (Requiem 124) and "shut down" (Requiem 272) as he tends to do, drowning in a depression and anger that seems singularly his and inaccessible to any others.4 Moreover, drawing out the connections between traumatic experiences and to a larger sense of history that can be traced in landscapes, the novel suggests that the trauma of the internment or the specifics of one life are not lost or forgotten, but are joined with, implied through, and preserved with others: other histories of war, internment, dispossession, alienation, and sedimentation.

Vancouver's Skyscrapers and Holes

10As much as the relationship Requiem suggests between history and landscape might promote thinking and living more ethically—of recognizing how we are all connected and therefore trying to live our lives more thoughtfully and responsibly attuned to each other—one critique might be to wonder how it is that the lives of others are not also lost in the flowing rivers of time. Is there some trick, technique, or mode of being to help us be attentive to these stories so that we might act more ethically toward each other? Murakami's poetry offers a similar complication to the idea that the land and attending to it can help people be more attentive, caring, and careful. As critic, Joanne Leow, describes, Murakami's poetry collection concerns "an urban space where the ideas of home and dwelling are inextricable from a transnational, capitalist property market" (141). In these poems, capitalist speculation that puts profit over people has invaded the land and turned the landscape into hard glass, stainless steel, and concrete buildings or into massive holes of construction sites being dug to erect such structures, all of which are devoid of life. Whereas Itani's landscapes and waterways encourage characters and readers to think about their connections to history, to life forces, and to each other, Murakami's construction sites and huge glass and concrete buildings are completely antithetical to human connection. Rather, they present massive obstacles to life and to understanding human history. Indeed, the structures built to house people do not actually house them at all but are used as empty placeholders for money and investment: "Empty suites never inhabited / held safe for future profits" (33), and "empty. Owned, and empty" (38). Thus, the signs and sounds of human living that should be inside these spaces meant for human habitation, such as the "thumbprint / Thrum of refrigerator, lullaby, full belly" (33), have been replaced by cycles of capitalist exchange, of selling, repossession, and reselling (46) that are barely or never about life, living in a home, or the human realm.

  • 5 Indeed, the themes of civic life and what it means to be citizens comes back again particularly in (...)

11However, the problem with cityscapes and sky-scraping objects that Murakami's poems pinpoint is not that these structures replace natural landscapes, blocking our access to the land and to the sense of history necessary for self-reflection that we might be able to trace in it, as Itani's novel suggests. Rather, the book allows that cities could be built on community agreement, engagement, and imagination: "The city exists if we agree it does. / Suspend disbelief, make community. / Live in our imagination" (46), with the words "our imagination" stressing the communal nature of such a possibility.5 The problem with these landscapes and cityscapes is the particular structures that are built on them because of why they are built and what they are used for: profit. These structure-things are not at all like the fossils and figurines that Bin and others find in the landscape and that connect them to the past and to each other's histories. Indeed, we might consider how the structures that increasingly overwhelm Vancouver's landscape are not like things at all. For, according to thinkers like Heidegger or Sara Ahmed, material items are fundamentally relational. As Heidegger explains in Being and Time, even a shoe puts us into relationships with others and with history because a shoe requires work and "the work is dependent on leather, thread, needles, and the like. Leather, moreover is produced from hides. These are taken from animals, which someone else has raised" (100). Similarly, Ahmed describes how objects, with their immense histories and over time, also gather us together, such as a table that not only came from forests, was made by people, and may have been passed down or sold over generations, but also is used for "collective gatherings" (Queer Phenomenology 80). Likewise, we might imagine how a broken figurine links the collector with the item's maker and others who admire it, how a fossil joins the person holding it with the animal it once was or with others at the museum where it now resides, and how a landscape or river might draw together people who like viewing it. However, because Murakami's condo towers primarily serve capitalism and exist for profit, they do not act like things: they do not shelter life and facilitate community but obstruct human life and communal interaction. As large blocks of glass, mirror, and concrete, they block the views of other city inhabitants and condo dwellers as they try to look out toward each other and the rest of the world. And, viewing the world from the perspective the towers offer diminishes people so that they cannot appear as complex beings with messy contradictions but only as detached body parts, such as an eye in a window (24) or as mere scalps as seen from above (54). Playing with the etymology of the word 'mortgage'—death pledge—Murakami further draws attention to how these structures of capitalism reduce people's lives, and deaths, to financial equations in which lives become objects pledged as collateral in debt contracts with banks (51). People no longer live, expressing their unique lives, as they drive towards death along with everyone and everything else. Instead, life and death have been completely usurped by economic concerns and capitalist speculation.

12A consequence of building and living in these cityscapes and their massive market objects, which replace life with capitalist exchange and reduce people to objects, is that communities become alienated from history and individuals become painfully disoriented. The poems acknowledge that the city structures are "built on shores / still not ceded," which "they might call Salish" (15, also 36), and they tell us that "the land that was taken there, [was] taken again / from another family" (15). These allusions remind readers of the Coast Salish Aboriginal communities that existed on the land before the current condo builds and that were uprooted by colonial speculation and capitalist ventures, as well as the Japanese Canadians, whose property was liquidated during the internment. Inflecting the poems in Rebuild, especially in the final section of the collection, with her family's personal experience—of "the home [the speaker's father] could not return to" (85)—Murakami indicates the histories of different communities, which included different ways of existing with things, as well as the histories of violence and dispossession that haunt the landscape but that are largely overlooked and forgotten in the cityscape. Indeed, the shores might have been called Salish, but they are not. Rather, the coast is called by other names—Vancouver Island and the Georgia Basin—because of colonial exploration and development, which have functioned to erase its Aboriginal past and even its Japanese Canadian settler past.

  • 6 The collection includes another poem with the same title, suggesting a further indeterminacy about (...)

13Without a connection to the history of the land or to others in the landscape, the experience of living in the city is one of being "lost / in a maze of glass" (17), and, in the dizzying experience of all the duplication of sameness (42)—of building upon building—the speaker of the poems is unable to gain a perspective on her position or herself. Whereas all the glass of the city promises views out onto the landscape, the speaker cannot actually escape it to exit to the outside. In the poem, "I am not in the city," the title suggests that the speaker has exited the cityscape; however, the poem ends with the repetition, "the centre. The centre. The centre" (17), suggesting that no matter how much the speaker tries to leave it, she only always ends up back in the centre of the city. Moreover, whereas the words "the centre" indicate a definite point of focus in the middle of things, the repetition of these words suggests an uncertainty about that centre and the subject's ability to locate herself in relation to it, or even to position herself at all. Which centre is the centre, or are we looking at a centre within a centre within a centre as a kind of indeterminate abyss? Is the speaker trying to arrive at a centre, as a meaningful point or a meeting spot, or escape from the city's centre only to be thwarted by the maze of glass?6 Arguably, the subject of the capitalist cityscape becomes so alienated from her wants and needs that, in a cruelly optimistic turn, she also finds herself desiring and being unable to help desiring the very consumer objects, structures for profit, and mortgages that keep her trapped and alienated. For example, the speaker is critical of home ownership and cannot see herself living in a condo because she "can't afford the view," but also, she "can't help wanting to" afford it (38). Unable to locate herself or anything meaningful that might help her orient herself and build relationships with others and the world, both the subject and meaning all but disappear, and the landscape becomes a hole—another word and theme Murakami often repeats in this collection. The hole is what you look through in the plywood lining a construction site, so you can see how the building is progressing (22). It is also the crater as "big as a city block" that is dug into the landscape, indiscriminately upending the homes and histories that previously existed at those sites, leaving the speaker to ask, "What was here before? / What was here before?" (32). And, like nearly everything else in the poems, the hole becomes meaningless when, in one poem, the word is repeated over and over again 140 times in 4 stanzas (40).

Dwelling and the Land

14Analysing the two texts together, in Itani's novel, land and landscapes, because they contain traces of all of history and of life, can be healing. They help Bin gather remnants from his past and stories of other people and periods of time, whereby he gains a sense of how he exists in common with others. Subsequently, he can reflect on his experience in terms of these others, refracting his pain in a more manageable way. However, Murakami's poems suggest that the land has been so exploited and overrun by capitalist speculation, by production and consumption for personal profit, that we can no longer see or experience the land as such, at least, perhaps, not in cities like Vancouver. Indeed, extrapolating from Murakami's poems, we might consider how, in this era of the Anthropocene, all land and landscapes are always already polluted and touched by the debris of market cycles. The land has become so transformed by the aim to take advantage of it and use it for the profitable ends of a few that perhaps we can no longer read it and see, for example, the violent histories marked on it (the dispossession of First Nations communities and Japanese Canadians among them), never mind trace the larger sense of history and life that might allow us to sense the world and live in it differently. Whereas Bin can wander across Canada with his dog, and, through that movement into the land, recollect his life and gain a different sense of what his life and life in general means, Murakami indicates a space (and time) in which it is impossible to escape the maze of glass and concrete obstructions in order to have any connections to the land. The speaker of the poems can neither afford the view from a condo window, nor presumably the mode of transportation that would carry her across the growing sprawl of suburban houses out to the undeveloped landscape. Moreover, Murakami's poems further indicate that, not only is the landscape and our ability to see or reach it affected by capital speculation, but also humans themselves have—through a kind of adaption to their destitution— been fundamentally affected by cycles of consumption so that we cannot help but desire the very things and structures that get in the way of our living: that make us sick and unhappy, as well as unable to see and attune ourselves to the world in better ways.

  • 7 Google's Sidewalk Labs is to build 2 500 housing units, some for low income families, on a 5-hector (...)

15The lesson, in reading these two texts together in terms of the land, is that if we are still to commune with the land and benefit from it, we need to stop subjecting it to market speculation and valuation. Structures cannot be built when, fundamentally and at the very basis of their construction, investors, builders, and planners ultimately have their eyes on making money. For our wellbeing, we need to regulate development companies, tying their profits and the profits of investors to the needs of the people, the community, and the land. And, allowing companies to develop sections of a city to provide housing for people, as Toronto is currently doing with Google, should not be an option.7

16Besides these more obvious and concrete actions that need to take place, however, these texts further gesture us to ask how we stop being so deeply and profoundly (psychologically) swayed by consumer values and ideologies—like Murakami's speaker who can't help wanting to buy a condo without a view—so that we can begin to see the land and the world differently (outside of market equations) and act differently towards them. One possibility, here, that the novel and poems seem to suggest as a way for beginning a foundational change in our capitalist worldview, is actually to return to the little things. Perhaps the trick or technique to becoming more attentive and ethical is to begin by learning to care for the broken bits and details in the land and elsewhere. Following Bin, and his example of collecting and caring for his broken smalls and the artefacts he finds in the landscape, but also the speaker in Murakami's poems, who attends to the traces of life (the "thumbprint / Thrum of refrigerator, lullaby, full belly," 33) even when they are not there, and who gathers her father's things after he dies (the "poker chips and piggy banks of pennies," 85), perhaps we need to care more for the small items. Indeed, caring for the little things slows us down and cultivates a mode of paying attention, or as Donna Haraway describes of Vinciane Despret, "of holding open the possibility that surprises [however small] are in store" (6). And, it teaches us to value things differently and for different reasons. By calling our attention to little figurines, fossils, and piggy banks of pennies, the novel and poems suggest we adopt practices of consideration and contemplation that might offer us an antidote to the way of being in the world that is always tainted with an interest in the bottom-line. Importantly, in these texts, this kind of care is not a domestic or gendered issue. It is about the ways in which daughters and sons attend to what remains of history; about how mothers and fathers coped, sometimes not so well, within their circumstances; about the traumatic, personal, and painful losses (of fathers, mothers, things, one's sense of self, and connections to the land); and about the larger fabric of life and the land from which this all arises and returns.

  • 8 Haraway discusses "going visiting" for Despret as a kind of "thinking in attunement with those she (...)

17One final thing that the novel and book of poetry suggest is the important role of literature to how we might see and engage with the land and each other in a more caring and attentive way. For Martha Nussbaum, literature helps us to stretch our imaginations so we might feel ourselves in other imagined possibilities, thus allowing us to visit further afield and outside of the limits of our own circumstances so we can be more sensitive to each other and the world ("Democratic Citizenship and the Narrative Imagination"). Perhaps literature, then, as Itani and Murakami show with their texts, allows us to similarly visit the land and to imagine other spaces, places, and possibilities when we might be otherwise obstructed from and limited in accessing it.8 But, perhaps, in addition to visiting the land and sensing the other possibilities it presents us, literature can also help us dwell there. Heidegger speaks of the poets as those who come closest to the chasm of history, and who, through language are able to make a dwelling in which to live and have shelter against the abyss ("What Are Poets For ?"). And, at the end of his essay, "Unpacking My Library," Benjamin builds a place from his collected objects, his books, into which he disappears to live and dwell in relationship to history and as responsible for the future (67). Similarly, Itani's novel and Murakami's poems suggest that literature might allow us the time to dwell with the world. In this way, literature not only affords us shelter, but also a different way of seeing the world, bringing it closer to us (to help us see it more clearly) so that we can comport ourselves and live better in the world and in history. Perhaps literature can help us, in our present moment, live better with the past, with others, and with the land that traces and contains them all.

Top of page


ADACHI, Kenn, The Enemy That Never Was, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976.

AHMED, Saran, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

BENJAMIN, Walter, "Unpacking My Library," Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn. Ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 1969, 59-67.

BERLANT, Lauren, Cruel Optimism, Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.

CECCO, Leyland, "Pipeline battle puts focus on Canada's disputed right to use indigenous land," The Guardian. 11 Jan 2019. Accessed 23 June 2019.

CECCO, Leyland, "'Surveillance capitalism': critic urges Toronto to abandon smart city project." The Guardian. 6 June 2019. Accessed 13 June 2019.

"Education and First Nations – On-Reserve Elementary and Secondary Schools," Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Accessed 13 June 2019.

FRYE, Northrop, "Conclusion to a Literary History of Canada," The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination, Toronto: Anasi, 1971, 213-250.

FREUD, Sigmund, "Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920)," On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis, trans. James Strachey. Ed. Angela Richards. Penguin Freud Library Vol. 2. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1991, 269-338.

HARAWAY, Donna, "A Curious Practice," Angelaki. 20:2, 2015, 5-14.

HEIDEGGER, Martin. Being and Time, Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.

HEIDEGGER, Martin, "What Are Poets For ?" Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1971. 87-140.

ITANI, Frances, Requiem, Toronto: HarperCollins, 2011.

LEOW, Joanne, "Renovating Vancouver: Transnational Constructions and Mortgages in Sachiko Murakami's Rebuild" Journal of Asian American Studies. 20:2, June 2017, 139-160.

MALABOU, Catherine, Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity, Trans. Carolyn Shread. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2012.

MIKI, Roy, Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice, Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2004.

MURAKAMI, Sachiko, Rebuild, Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2011.

NUSSBAUM, Martha C., "Democratic Citizenship and the Narrative of Imagination." Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 107:1, 2008, 143-57. Accessed 15 June 2019.

SUNAHARA, Ann Gomer, The Politics of Racism: The Uprooting of Japanese Canadians During the Second World War, Ottawa: Ann Sunahara, 2000.

Top of page


1 See, for example, the map "Education and First Nations."

2 Between March and October 1942, the Canadian government forcibly displaced nearly 22,000 people of Japanese ancestry, including mainly Canadian citizens, from their homes, sending the men to work in road camps while all the women, children, elderly, and those unable to work were sent to a number of different hastily constructed and insufficient dwellings in ghost towns and camps in the interior of the province of British Columbia. Later, the government liquidated all the property of the displaced Japanese Canadian population without the owners' authorization and even despite their outright dissent. And, the population was compelled to move east or were sent to live in war-torn Japan. The restrictions against the people of Japanese ancestry were not lifted until 1949, but by then there was little to nothing to go back to in the areas and communities where they used to live. See Ken Adachi's The Enemy That Never Was, Roy Miki's Redress, and Ann Gomer Sunahara's The Politics of Racism.

3 Another character concerned with history and historical objects in the novel is Bin's neighbour, Miss Carrie, whose house is a museum of artefacts: "an ancient jacket shortened in the left sleeve, […] a muskrat stole with hard eyes and snout that had once belonged to Mommy" (55), and her father's "humidor adorns the walnut buffet, cigars inside" (57). Like Bin's collection, the objects give us a sense of Miss Carrie's particular story, which includes being a child in England during the first World War. The items also evoke a sense of many other histories, such as those of her parents and those who experienced the first World War, for example.

4 Besides allowing Bin to reflect on his experience, widening the perspective on the internment to include all histories of loss implies a double and contradictory result for thinking about the Japanese Canadian internment. On one hand, the larger view of history that implies how we exist in relationship to and are responsible for each other suggests that we remember the politicians, government officials, government policies, and racism that were culpable in displacing and dispossessing people of Japanese ancestry in Canada. However, figuring the internment as one of many experiences of loss in the immense movement of history also threatens to assimilate the event with all the others, whereby its specificity and import cannot appear from out of the mire.

5 Indeed, the themes of civic life and what it means to be citizens comes back again particularly in the third section of the collection, "If the Shoe Fits."

6 The collection includes another poem with the same title, suggesting a further indeterminacy about living in the city: of not being able to express the experience, and of having to do it again. Interestingly, in the second "I am not in the city" poem, the centre is further abstracted and becomes only an invented wish rather than a possibility or reality for the speaker (18).

7 Google's Sidewalk Labs is to build 2 500 housing units, some for low income families, on a 5-hector section of the city's waterfront as part of a "smart city" project, which many critics recognize as surveillance capitalism, or a means of exploiting people's choices and personal information for Google's profit. See Cecco, Leyland. "'Surveillance capitalism': critic urges Toronto to abandon smart city project."

8 Haraway discusses "going visiting" for Despret as a kind of "thinking in attunement with those she thinks with" ("A Curious Practice", 5), that is, as a way of thinking that is attentive to and that follows along with the ways others and animals think.

Top of page


Bibliographical reference

Lara Okihiro, Dwelling with the Land and in History: River Scenes and Cityscapes in Frances Itani's Requiem and Sachiko Murakami's Rebuild Caliban, 61 | 2019, 273-286.

Electronic reference

Lara Okihiro, Dwelling with the Land and in History: River Scenes and Cityscapes in Frances Itani's Requiem and Sachiko Murakami's Rebuild Caliban [Online], 61 | 2019, Online since 10 June 2021, connection on 11 December 2023. URL:

Top of page

About the author

Lara Okihiro

University of Toronto, Canada.
Lara OKIHIRO has earned post-graduate degrees in English, theory, and psychoanalysis in the UK and Canada (MA Goldsmiths, University of London, and PhD University of Toronto). She has lectured and published internationally on literature, the Japanese Canadian internment, issues of racism and social justice, and education. Her book, Lost Objects: Literature and the Dispossession of Incarcerated Nikkei, is forthcoming.

Top of page



The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search