Guest Post by William Wai Liang Tham

Leanne Dunic’s collection of lyric-poetry drew on her heritage and defied conventions. It piqued my interest when I first heard her reading from it last year. Yet I waited until recently to read it, finally opening the book on the Skytrain to Waterfront station. One of the peculiarities of To Love the Coming End was its moments of strange clarity that exploded from out of meandering, abstract strangeness. I found within it the opinions of Yukio Mishima, the nationalist Japanese author who committed ritual suicide in 1970 after leading a failed coup to restore the Emperor to his pre-war power. One opinion from Page 18 stood out:

[He] offered the opinion that Japan had two contradicting characteristics: elegance and brutality.

Shortly after this, I read Joy Kogawa’s memoir, Gently to Nagasaki. It was surreal that I was living in her childhood house that became the focal point of her struggle to reconcile the contradicting kindness and monstrousness of her father.  It took a lifetime for her come to terms with this, polarizing the Japanese-Canadian community in the process. Kogawa’s book would also touch on many of the same points that Dunic catalogued. She did not stop with her father, but went on to talk about contemporary activists, supporters of the Japanese evacuation, and of course the violent and refined Japanese empire following the Meiji Restoration.

Meanwhile I kept working in the house, filling in notebooks with outlines. I wanted to write a novel that was filled with contradictions and misunderstandings, but without any obvious antagonists. I wanted my book to inhabit the grey areas. It was precisely this greyness that Kogawa explored with her memoir. I supposed the only thing to do was to find some sort of reconciliation between polarized extremes. We had to recognize that there were no easy answers.


The house was warm in the early fall afternoons, where the sun had finally broken through after days of rain, but at night the cold seeped back in. When I first arrived in Canada I loved the novelty of the cold months. But years later I dreaded the rains that hammered down incessantly, and the decreasing daylight was already apparent. I missed the heat of the summer and the promise that the season entailed.

At the end of August, I went on a road trip that carved its way across the province. We took the road through Merritt and Kamloops up to Valemount, before cutting south using the Icefields Parkway and looping back through BC. In the mountains where the sun set early, and ice glimmered on summits, while we were wrapped in jackets with the heater turned on. Quite often the highway was so quiet and clear that you could stop and walk to the middle, the road so straight and level that you could see the oncoming lights of the cars in the far distance as katabatic winds gusted. I was shivering long before we reached the marker at the Athabasca Glacier with the year of my birth. In the years since the glacier had receded several hundred metres, melting off and feeding the gushing river that wound its way north, away from the Continental Divide and towards the Arctic Ocean. There was something sad and majestic about being there and I wanted nothing more than to return to the certainty of the car.

Our path was long, inadvertently tracing the railway beds gouged out by and those Gold Mountain men who had built tracks through the Kicking Horse Pass to the last spike at Craigellachie. We skirted the rugged ground of the Kootenays, where many camps were set up during the evacuation[1]. In this emptiness it was to forget that the camps existed, dotted deep in the Interior and along the Fraser Canyon, since so little trace remained. We drove past the sites of various traumas casually in the car, turning the music up high to help pass the hours. Past the railways that took many lives in a grandiose nation-building enterprise and would later displace families, dispersing them into the prairies and to Ontario and beyond.

We played a selection of songs to keep us awake as darkness flooded in. Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are was one of them. It was melancholy, dramatic, and full of reflections on the past.

Four years ago, I wound up east of the Rockies needing a change of scenery and a new sense of direction. I looked at my options and chose Edmonton—it was as far from the coast as I could get, briefly escaping the web of cross-connections that I wanted to escape from. I tried my best to stay out of Vancouver during this time, making a series of decisions that took me to the Okanagan Valley and eventually Jiangsu Province in China, but permanent wanderlust/escapism was not for me and I quickly found myself drawn back to familiarity with its complications and contradictions. There was no permanent escape from it. I learned the same lesson that Joy Kogawa did: Reconciliation was difficult, but important.

[1] On September 28th, 2018, a commemorative plaque was unveiled near Three Valley Gap. The Revelstoke-Sicamous Highway Roadcamps Legacy Sign commemorates the work done by the evacuees in building that stretch of the highway.