“Repentance” by Andrew Lam, Tiny Fox Press, 297 pages, $15.95.
Four years ago, Andrew Lam’s first novel, “Two Sons of China,” was favorably reviewed in this space. His second novel, “Repentance,” demonstrates his progress as a novelist. Lam uses a more complex plot, switches perspectives between several characters and changes time frames separated by many years before the book has reached its denouement.
The book’s protagonist, Daniel Tokunaga, is a noted cardiovascular surgeon in 1998 Philadelphia. Although seemingly comfortable in his affluent surroundings and established marriage, and with his two children beginning college, his life is upended by a call from his embittered and alienated father telling him that his mother has been in an accident. Returning to California after a decade’s absence he discovers that everything he has believed about his life has been a sham.
By the book’s end, Daniel has been able to unravel long-ignored family secrets and paste together the myriad of unrelated choices he made which ultimately became his life. Lam’s novel, like any well-written work featuring the meaning of honor, family relationships and self-awakening, merits the reader’s attention.
The secondary purpose of any historical novel is to truthfully inform the reader about a bygone era. Few Americans today recall that FDR signed an executive order in 1942 authorizing the forced relocation of 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry to 10 widely separated and isolated “evacuation camps” for the duration of the war. Even fewer readers will remember the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which became the most highly decorated unit in the war against Nazi Germany with 21 Congressional Medal of Honor winners. The 442nd consisted of volunteers from Hawaii and the relocation camps who all had Japanese heritage. Lam’s unflinching description of the primitive conditions in the civilian camps, and the brutality of the sacrifices the heroic unit made while fighting in France form the background of his fictional story.
“Repentance,” which could have easily been retitled “Redemption,” should be enjoyed by readers interested in historic fiction or the lingering damage caused by any war.