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Daruma Days: A Collection of Fictionalised Biography

by Terry Watada

Toronto author, playwright, and musician Terry Watada’s first book of fiction, Daruma Days, is a collection of stories connected by their Japanese-Canadian characters’ evacuation to internment camps in the British Columbia interior during the Second World War. The 11 stories deal with those who came out of this experience of state-sponsored racist isolation to go on to lives haunted by memories of the place, as well as by the ghosts of those who were lost there.

Despite its subject matter, the tone of Daruma Days is not one of political outrage. Watada’s project lies in capturing the personality of a particular community and its emotional connection to a historical period. Children taken from Vancouver’s Little Tokyo in the 1940s (inevitably self-named with American-sounding nicknames such as “Lefty,” “Rosie,” and “Lemon”) grow up to be widows and widowers in a neglectful modern world.

The collection’s most successful offering is the opening story “The Daruma,” which involves a menacing daruma doll that plagues an old woman living in her son’s basement in Toronto. It manages, through a series of flashbacks, to collapse large chunks of personal and national history to lead to a dramatic and moving conclusion. Not all of the stories are as fine, however. In fact, the book’s collective impact weakens as it progresses, and in the end the stories’ similarities of theme, event, and resolution leave the reader with the impression of indistinct repetition – as though witnessing a series of slight alterations to the same narrative.

One aspect of Daruma Days that stands out, however, is its ambitious incorporation of the supernatural in writing that otherwise reads as straightforward realism. There’s a crying phantom woman, a grinning Buddha, a haunted mirror, and there are spirits demanding proper burial in order for their souls to find eternal rest. Some of these figures are chillingly effective and others are just silly. But it is a feature that occasionally lifts these stories out of the mire of sentimentality to reach for the giddy heights of myth.