Friday, June 22, 2007

Shaena Lambert's "Radiance"

Shaena Lambert is the author of a book of short stories, The Falling Woman, which was chosen by The Globe and Mail as a top book of the year and was short-listed for the Danuta Gleed Award.

Radiance, her first novel, is about an enigmatic Hiroshima survivor who comes to New York for surgery on her face and the complex relationship she has with her hosts.

Lambert applied the "Page 99 Test" to Radiance and reported the following:
The test seems to work for Radiance.

On page 99 Daisy, the main character, thinks about "the nature of the enemy" - ie, why we hate en masse, and what happens to that hatred once the cause is gone.

The book takes place in 1952, seven years after the end of WW2. Daisy has the job of looking after Keiko, a Hiroshima survivor who has come to New York to have surgery on her face. But Keiko behaves badly - she's aloof rather than grateful. She steals. She lies. On page 99, Daisy is tired - tired of being nice, tired of controlling her own conflicted emotions. She is sitting in the UN plaza thinking about all the hate people used to feel during the war. What happened to it? Did it disappear? Can hate be turned on and off like a light switch - or is it still there?

She remembers a poster she saw depicting Tojo as a worm, with crossed eyes, many teeth in a fleshy-lipped mouth. He looked venomous. But in fact (she learned later, seeing his photo during the war crimes tribunal) he was actually a grave, good-looking gentleman. With their hatred they had transformed him.

Daisy seems fairly conventional on the surface but like many normal-seeming people she uses her normalness as a smokescreen. Here, once she gets thinking, she does try to do justice to the question - seeing it not just from her own point of view, but imagining the hatred that fueled Japanese aggression as well.

All of this is pretty central to the themes of the book.
Visit Shaena Lambert's website and read an excerpt from Radiance.

--Marshal Zeringue