Susan Aihoshi

Torn Apart


Was Mary Kobayashi a real person?
No, Mary is an imaginary character. But her home at 2321 Oxford Street was the same address of my mother's real family home in Vancouver.

Did the events that Mary describes in her diary really happen to your mother?
Yes, some of the same things that happen to Mary also happened to my mother. My mother did steal some of her own geechan's Maple Buds, he chased her into the cherry tree and the branch broke, just like Mary! My mother was also a Girl Guide like Mary, attended Templeton Junior High and was a bit of a tomboy. My mother's oldest brother went to Schreiber, just like Mary's brother Tad. But not everything that happened to Mary and her family happened to my mother. For example, my mother did not have two older brothers, only one.

Where did you get the ideas for the things that weren't part of your mother's life?
That is where I had to do my research. I read books that described what happen to Japanese Canadians living during that time and looked up old newspapers, magazines and photographs. I also interviewed many other older Japanese people besides my mother, my aunts, uncles and others not related to me. I also spoke to my mother's childhood friend from the war years. She was not Japanese so it gave me another perspective on those past events.

What did you learn when you were writing this book?
I discovered how the flourishing community of Japanese Canadians in B.C. was literally "torn apart" by the evacuation and relocation. Although I am a third- generation Japanese Canadian, it wasn't until I wrote this book that I realized how much of my own cultural heritage was lost due to those long ago events.

What was the hardest thing about writing Torn Apart?
While this book is a work of fiction, any mention of real events had to be totally accurate. I had to make sure that the books that Mary was reading were available back then, as well as the chocolate bars and other candy. I even had to make sure the movies Mary and her friends went to see were actually running in the Vancouver theatres at the time! But I had the help of a fact-checker as well as a historical consultant, who both made sure everything was as true as possible.

What was the best thing about writing the book?
It's hard to pick just one thing. I had lots of fun incorporating some of the stories my mother and aunts and uncles told me into Mary's diary. I will also never forget my visit to New Denver to see the place where both my parents' families were sent to back in 1942. And it's been wonderful how the research I did has brought me into contact with the Japanese Canadian community again. I feel as if I have been reconnected with a wonderful new family.