Rizzuto, Rahna Reiko
Rizzuto, Rahna Reiko
PERSONAL: Born in Honolulu, HI; married; children: two sons. Education: Attended Wellesley College; Columbia University, degree in astrophysics.
CAREER: Writer and educator. Worked variously, including as a DNA lab technician and as an astronomer for Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Corporation; Goddard College, Plainfield, VT, faculty member.
Why She Left Us (novel), HarperFlamingo (New York, NY), 1999.
Author of novels for young adults, published pseudonymously. Contributor to periodicals, including Asian Pacific American Journal. Associate editor of The NuyorAsian Anthology: Asian-American Writings about New York City, edited by Bina A. Realuyo, Asian-American Writers' Workshop (New York, NY), 1999.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A nonfiction book titled Hiroshima in the Morning; Mothers Who Think 2, for HarperCollins; an anthology titled Topography of War, for Temple University Press; two more adult novels.
SIDELIGHTS: Born to a Japanese-American mother and an Italian father, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto grew up on the big island of Hawaii. Her childhood environment, which included a rain forest, pasture, waterfall, and volcanic desert right near her home, was idyllic, inspiring the young Rizzuto to sit by the waterfall and write what she described in an Amazon.com interview as "the usual bad poetry." This life was very different from what her mother had experienced as a child who spendt World War II in a Japanese internment camp in the United States. Her mother never really spoke to her daughter about this time in her life until Rizzuto was in her thirties. "My mother called me one day to invite me to go with her to the 50th anniversary of the opening of the internment camp she was sent to when she was a child," Rizzuto related on the Prairie Den Publishing Web site. "Up to that point in my life, I knew very little about the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II, and what I found out while I was there outraged me." Although she had studied astrophysics in college, Rizzuto became interested in creative writing during the last semesters of her studies. She decided to make her first major creative project a novel about Japanese Americans, which would be published as Why She Left Us.
Covering three generations and told from four different points of view, Why She Left Us centers around Emi Okada, who bears two children out of wedlock during the war, much to her family's, and her own, shame. Her first child, a son named Eric, is given up for adoption, though Emi's mother later wrests the boy from his adoptive parents. Married at the end of the war, Emi takes her second child, Mariko, with her and her husband when the family moves to Hawaii, abandoning Eric. The story is then told through the eyes of the various characters, including Emi's brother, Jack, who fights with an all-Japanese American platoon during the war. The novel combines the author's interest in history and, as she noted on the Goddard College Web site, "structure, and in memory, and in the use of historical research in fiction and creative nonfiction." She touches on a number of issues ranging from the struggles of immigrants to assimilate into American culture to the problems of a family's past and its effects on present relationships. Although, as Nancy Pearl pointed out in her Booklist review, the past can never be truly erased, Rizzuto shows readers that "through love and forgiveness it can lose its painful hold on the present."
A number of other critics praised Rizzuto's debut novel. For example, Beth E. Andersen, writing in Library Journal, appreciated the author's creation of an intricate puzzle of complex relationships that "somehow reveal just a glimmer of redemption at the end." And although a Publishers Weekly critic noted that the subject of prejudice against Japanese-Americans during the war has been addressed many times before by other authors, "Rizzuto's uncompromising portrait of the suffering of Japanese-Americans is depicted with rare force and candor."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 1999, Nancy Pearl, review of Why She Left Us, p. 2028.
Hokubei Hochi (Seattle, WA), September 20, 2000, review of Why She Left Us, p. 5.
International Examiner (Seattle, WA), October 5, 1999, Wingate Packard, "Bittersweet Bonds: Rizzuto Explores the Intricate Bonds between Mothers and Children," p. 21.
Library Journal, July, 1999, Beth E. Andersen, review of Why She Left Us, p. 135.
New York Times Book Review, August 29, 1999, Sarah Saffian, review of Why She Left Us, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, June 14, 1999, review of Why She Left Us, p. 47.
Writer's Digest, September, 1999, "First Novel Profile: Rahna Reiko Rizzuto," p. 11.
Amazon.com, http://www.amazon.com/ (October 25, 1999), "Amazon.com Talks to Rahna Reiko Rizzuto."
Goddard College Web site, http://www.goddard.edu/ (July 27, 2004), "Rahna Reiko Rizzuto."
Prairie Den Publishing Web site, http://prairieden.com/ (July 13, 2004), "Rahna Reiko Rizzuto."
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (September 17, 1999), Kate Moses, "Why They Never Told Us."