Why She Left Us
By Rahna Reiko Rizzuto
HarperCollins, $24
August 29, 1999

Rahna Reiko Rizzuto's first novel, WHY SHE LEFT US, is broad in scope, yet its greatest pleasures are small ones. Rizzuto follows three generations of a Japanese-American family, deftly counterbalancing the dramas of World War II (the American internment camps, specifically) and of home life (most crucially, the relinquishment of a child born out of wedlock). The book's structure is equally ambitious: the story is told by four different narrators in several time periods, jumping between past and present tense and third and first person. This method can be intriguing; reading the book is akin to assembling a jigsaw puzzle as the picture gradually emerges. But the multiple voices render the narrative choppy, at odds with the simple, lyrical beauty of the language itself: words "dropped individually, like stones into dust," lips "arched like a bird's wings," a bellicose brother turning on his heel "left the form of a butterfly in the dirt on the floor." A subtly persistent longing for security pervades all the characters and is most poignantly present in Eric, the boy who was given up for adoption and then reclaimed by his grandmother, but never by his mother. Two scenes are rendered all the more moving, and significant, by being parallel–in 1925, a little girl watches her mother give birth; 17 years later, she bears her own daughter as her mother looks on. The real news in "Why She Left Us" resides in the intimate moments. –SARAH SAFFIAN