Reviewed

Reviewed: “Repentance” by Andrew Lam

I received an advanced copy of Repentance from Tiny Fox Press in exchange for an honest and fair review. All thoughts are my own.

I don’t cry easily. Words have the power to move me, and they always do, but tears are a sign that something important, meaningful, and powerful has been committed to paper. At least for me.

I cried, more than once, as I read Andrew Lam’s Repentance.

Repentance is a story of war, of family, of understanding, of acceptance, of grief, of love…

The war is World War II. Ray Tokunaga was born a nisei (first generation Japanese born in American) in Hawaii and was drafted into the Army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was placed in the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team that served with distinction throughout Europe.

The family is essentially centered around Daniel Tokunaga, oldest son of Ray and Keiko Tokunaga. In 1998, when the story begins, he is a world-famous cardio-thoracic surgeon in Philadelphia and he has been estranged from his father for decades. He is absolutely convinced that Ray was too demanding and not enough understanding. And he had no idea that Ray is a highly decorated soldier.

Grief comes before understanding and acceptance, making it all the more powerful when Daniel understands, for the first time, that life cannot be as black and white as he always imagined it would be. He is taught that things aren’t always what they seem and that to assume he knows better than someone else who they are is to hurt them, to hurt himself by missing out on the chance to know them and to be known by them.

For some specific things that Lam handles with grace and respect, consider:

  • the juxtaposition of Daniel’s career as someone who saves lives, who is surrounded by blood and the looming specter of death every day, with Ray’s time fighting in the worst parts of the European Theater of Operations is perfect and almost poetic (and the first line of the novel is written in a way that all first lines should be written)
  • that Daniel more or less considers his father guilty of (verbal) child abuse until his father is a frail old man in a hospital bed and Daniel begins to consider that maybe Ray didn’t know how to love, how to show it, and that he showed love the only way he knew how – by pushing his son to be a better man than he saw himself as – is even more poetic

It’s best to leave the understanding and acceptance at that too, just so you know that I didn’t forget them, because to say more would be to spoil things and Repentance is a book that needs to be read – whether historical war fiction is your genre of choice or not, whether you are a history buff or not, whether you knew Japanese-American soldiers made up the most decorated unit in U.S. military history or not.

Please read this book. And incredible thanks to Andrew Lam for writing it and to Tiny Fox Press for giving me the chance to read it.

I’ve read a lot of historical fiction set in war, especially the two world wars. If I see it, I’ll read it. But I’m picky about my favorites. Repentance is a top three favorite now. Without a doubt.

Have you read any good historical war fiction that I should look for? Let me know in the comments!

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