The Kappa Child
Hiromi Goto , Red Deer Press 2001
The Kappa Child is a beautiful book, beautifully written, about the girlhood of a Japanese immigrant living on the Canadian prairie and how she eventually grows to incorporate and transcend the mental boundaries instilled by an abusive father and a spectacularly dysfunctional family. The protagonist is pregnant with her own new being–a Kappa Child. She is replenished rather than depleted by this pregnancy. It strikes me as a rather Jungian book, if Jung and his thoughts are not entirely out of fashion or actively disliked by a lot of people. An original and wonderful book. KG
This captivating magic realist novel is, from start to finish, a pure delight to read. Although clearly fantastic it is written with a “mainstream” sensibility so that emphasis is placed on the protagonists, their growth and their inner worlds rather than on an action-driven plot with which genre readers are more familiar. This book pulls no emotional punches yet remains both a loving and a positive work.
Goto’s warm, delicate and humorous touch had me, a straight and sometime conservative male, effortlessly identifying with the alienation felt by four Japanese-Canadian sisters, one of them queer, growing up within the confines of a strict, paternalistic family on the Canadian prairie. Quite a feat, that.
Add an immaculate conception, alien abductions and a kappa to the blend and you have an irresistible charmer of a book. PH
Goto creates a complex emotional landscape for her protagonist, woven from Japanese mythology, the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the complexities of filial and sibling relationships in a dysfunctional family. A collector of abandoned shopping trolleys, she has attempted to close the book of her childhood, but it insists on returning to haunt her. Also haunted by a phantom pregnancy after an encounter with a mythical stranger, she restarts her stalled life as she gestates her Kappa Child, coming to understand that the story she has told of herself is somewhat at odds with the stories of those with whom she shared her childhood and the few friends with whom she has tentative arms-length relationships.
This is a lyrically beautiful book which blends fairytale and narratives grounded in the everyday experience of Japanese-Canadians struggling to grow Japanese rice on the dry Canadian prairies. Without shrinking from exploring the ways in which familial violence can damage both victims and perpetrators, The Kappa Child is nonetheless a story of healing. JH
The Kappa Child is a delightful, wholly original book, ,a multi-layered story of dysfunctional family life, unexpected pregnancy, true friendship, alien abduction, budding romance and intimate encounters with mythical creatures.
It is a beautifully, gracefully told story. The prose glides from the narrator’s real-time (shopping cart collections, poor self-image, cucumber binges, halting, if not downright painful interactions with family and friends), to her childhood recollections (presented in hilarious, heartbreaking contrast to Little House on the Prairie), to her recent encounters with the Stranger/Kappa, to brief meditations about water, birth, growth, identity (as told by the Kappa? the magically conceived fetus? the narrator’s nascent self? all of the above?) There’s so much vivid imagery here: lots of water, lots of green; and many oppositional references to American television and Japanese mythology.
This is definitely a trickster’s tale; things are not what they seem. The narrator’s subservient, long-suffering mother is revealed as an alien abductee quite capable of self-actualization and self-defense. The narrator finds that she herself is not as isolated as she’d believed and that her sisters are not as shallow, spacey or damaged. The kappa itself is a genderless entity, no nipples or navel, for all that it first appears as a woman in a red silk wedding dress. This trickster is a loving one; by the book’s conclusion, there’s reconciliation, friendship, romance and rain. AP