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ISBN: 9780888015679
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Emperor's Orphans, The

From the shadows of postwar Canada and Japan to the vast Canadian prairies of the new millennium, The Emperor’s Orphans explores cultural identity through movements of place and voice. The story Sally Ito weaves is of loss and longing, restoration and recovery.  Through her voice and the voices of her family, Ito recounts a tale of journeys to and from Japan and Canada.  Along the way, she discovers startling family secrets that reveal the effects of war on her family’s lives and identities as Japanese Canadians.

Book Club Questions

Suggested Book Club discussion questions for The Emperor’s Orphans by Sally Ito

  1. Before reading The Emperor’s Orphans, what did you know about the experiences of Japanese Canadians during WWII? Do you think this is an overlooked part of Canadian history?
  2. Sally reflects that her Japanese name, Sachiko, means “happy child,” while her English name means “princess,” and the Japanese phonetic equivalent (“Sa-ri”) means “gossamer village” (p. 7-8). Did the meaning of your own name shape your identity in anyway? In our modern world, do you think it still matters ‘what’s in a name?’ Why or why not?
  3. As she grapples with her identity as a Japanese-Canadian woman, Sally Ito identifies her mother’s ikebana vase as a metaphor for her cultural identity (p. 13). Can you think of an object that signifies your own cultural identity?
  4. Chiyoko, Sally’s grandmother, was often known to say “Un ga warui” or “Fate is bad” (p. 7). Do you have any ideological phrases/mottos that were passed on to you by your parents or grandparents? If so, how did they shape your present-day identity?
  5. Sally learns about her father’s early experiences after he returned to Canada by reading the journal he kept at the time. Do you keep a journal? Why or why not?
  6. Auntie Kay played a major role in Sally’s life as a grandmother figure and also as a storyteller. Growing up, did you have a family storyteller? What are some specific stories that have stayed with you? Alternatively, are there any stories you never got to hear and how do you cope with this absence?
  7. Sally refers to an Ito family “jinx,” wherein the eldest son departs from Japan and “skips out” of their family duties (p. 26, 112). Do you have recurring patterns like this in your family history?
  8. Sally’s father was an extraordinary person in that he seamlessly bridged his Japanese and Canadian identities (p. 147). Have you ever been in a position where you had to reconcile two different roles/identities within yourself? Were you able to accomplish this and find equal footing for each, or does one take precedence over the other? If the latter, is this problematic for you?

09.          In the Emperor’s Orphans, we learn that Japanese culture is permeated by familial expectations, and a feeling of being “beholden” to family members, sometimes based on the actions of the parents and grandparents that came before you (p. 189). Have you ever been faced with weighty family expectations? What were they and how did you respond to them? Were there repercussions?

10.          Do you agree with Sally’s family’s decision to let Masaru take over ownership of Saichi’s land? Why or why not?

11.          In what ways is The Emperor’s Orphans a feminist book?

12.          If you were to write a family memoir, what would be the unique thematic focus of the book to set it apart from others like it?