Kerri Sakamoto challenges readers to have compassion and understanding

Canadian writer Kerri Sakamoto visited York on Jan. 29 as part of the Canadian Writers in Person series, and talked about her latest book, The Floating City. York University Teaching Assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

Like her previous books, The Electrical Field and One Hundred Million Hearts, Kerri Sakamoto based this novel on her parents’ experiences of internment during the Second World War. She also wanted to write here about the stories of her maternal grandmother’s marriage to a Buddhist priest. “A book is not written just by one lone person. There are so many people whose stories go into a book,” the author said to those in attendance at the Jan. 29 Canadian Writers in Person presentation.

One of the stories that made its way into this book is that of visionary architect Buckminster Fuller whom the author called a “self-mythologizing character who was very radical in his thinking.” Fuller designed a project of sustainable, floating pods of affordable housing in the Toronto harbour, which never came to be, but which is actualized in The Floating City. Sakamoto’s novel gives us a vision of what Toronto architecture might have been, and maybe what it could be.

After the end of the war, the protagonist, Frankie Hanesaka, leaves the Tashme internment camp in British Columbia for Toronto, where he eventually becomes a ruthless and successful property developer. He also meets Buckminster Fuller, who inspires him to learn how to build for the people, and not just for financial gain, which appears to be his initial goal. Sakamoto explores here concerns regarding city architecture, urban growth, and quality of life.

The author explained that her characters’ experiences of expropriation and internment affected them deeply. “The characters in my book are all affected by the oppression and racism they’ve encountered. They’ve internalized the racism … Frankie’s experiences make him bitter, avaricious.”

The author spoke about the importance of understanding why the protagonist of The Floating City is the person he is. “I think it’s important for readers to have compassion and understanding. Going through racism, you don’t always get a nice person coming out the other side. I like to challenge readers to have compassion even for people who are flawed.”

Katherena Vermette will be coming to the Canadian Writers in Person reading series on Feb. 12 to talk about her novel The Break.

Readings are free and open to any member of the public. For more information, contact Professor Leslie Sanders at leslie@yorku.ca or Professor Gail Vanstone at gailv@yorku.ca. All readings are held Tuesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. in 206 Accolade West Building, Keele Campus.

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