Compassion abounds in intimate journey




By Joy Kogawa (Halfmoon Bay, B.C.: Caitlin Press Inc., 2016, 214 pp., $25.95 CAD, paper)

“Gently to Nagasaki” is filled with honesty, fragility and deep questioning of opposing forces and ironic encounters that bring writer Joy Kogawa to unravel her truth. Before the memoir begins, Kogawa calls upon the Goddess of Mercy, “If I could follow the stream down and down to the hidden voice, would I come at last to the freeing world?” Rest assured, the Goddess responds, “I am with you through the water, under the water, in the birthing, in the forgetting, in the terror and at the heart of what you most fear, I am with you.”

To the deep abyss, Kogawa delves in many realms from the personal and communal, from Canada to Japan, from the present reclamation of her family home to the past decimation of the hidden Christians of Nagasaki. Anguished upon learning of the sexual transgressions of her own father, an Anglican priest, she is overcome physically with nausea and shaking. Yet, her filial love runs deep for her father, “the person I loved and admired more than anyone in the world . . . who was tender and generous and wept and laughed and sang, who was good and did not give up.” She detests what he has done, attempts to reconcile with those victimized, and encourages honest dialogue with those in opposition. She wrestles internally and bravely continues to write, desperately seeking truth and understanding of the oppressed and the oppressor. She holds space for human rights issues on personal, community and global issues to convene.

Open to unexpected encounters, Kogawa finds parallel lives with those she meets and restoration through people and nature that connect her to her past. She touches an old tree from her childhood home and feels a warmth coursing through her. “Knowing was somehow there and was being manifest. The life of which I was a part, my family’s life, my community’s life . . . all the good, all the evil, all the shame, all the secrets, all the kindness, all the sorrow, all all all, was fully known.”

While the spiritual path is treacherous for Kogawa, her trust runs deep and her compassion extends.

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