For fans of Tayari Jones and Ruth Ozeki, from National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Rizzuto comes a haunting and suspenseful literary tale set in 1970s New York City and World War II-era Japan, about three strong women, the dangerous ties of family and identity, and the long shadow our histories can cast.
Twin sisters Keiko and Hanako Swanson were so inseparable as children that they answered to a single nickname: Koko, made from “the small, safe endings left over when our mother created Kei and Hana, the bad girl and the good.” But who is the original, and who the shadow?
Growing up mixed-race and fatherless in a tiny Hawaiian town, Kei and Hana were raised in dreamlike isolation by their loving yet unstable mother. But when their cherished threesome with Mama is broken, and then further shattered by a violent betrayal that neither young woman can forgive, it seems their bond may be severed forever—until, six years later, Kei arrives on Hana’s lonely New York City doorstep with a secret that will change everything.
In her dazzling, suspenseful, and much-anticipated new novel, American Book Award-winning author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto takes us from the lush, treacherous shores of Hawaii to the gritty streets of New York to the devastation of World War II Japan, exploring identity and destiny through the intertwined lives of three unforgettable women: Hana, Kei, and a Japanese-American orphan named Lillie who will find herself, time and again, on the dangerous cusp of history.
Bookended by two startling crimes, Shadow Child is a provocative, unsettling, and important read from one of the acclaimed masters of the form.
So much of it! Details to come.
This story has taken me around the world – it’s set in New York, where I live, and Hawaii, where I was born and raised; I traveled to Japan for it, and in particular, I lived, for a while, in Hiroshima. Place is integral to the novel, and to Lillie’s story in particular. The real history of Hiroshima, and Manzanar, among other places, make my character who she is, just as they forever changed the lives of real people, and it is my hope that this novel can help to show how consequential these moments in history were, and are still today.
The same is not true of Hawaii. There is a town that inspired the one I created here, where I did extensive interviews and research to catch the nuances of a certain life and time. However, unlike Lillie’s story, the story of the twins is in no way meant to be representative of that particular town or its people. Hawaii is a rich and diverse place, and it requires many voices to bring it to life. Much like the conflicting accounts I heard during my interviews about the tsunami, the beauty of Hawaii is that no two stories will be the same. To encourage the reader to read more about Hawaii, and to explore the many local authors who are writing from their indigenous, multicultural, and diverse experiences, I chose to leave my fictional town unnamed.
Reading Group Guide
Revision: the long & winding road
Shadow Child took me nearly two decades to write. During that time, it took many different forms: it was two books, then one; a historical saga, a quiet family drama, a (failed) thriller. I have changed the setting; altered events; killed off characters, then revived them.
This long and winding road to publication has also included a number of pitstops in the proverbial drawer. I wrote the first 100 pages in the year 2000, then went to Japan to research the character of Lillie, which led me to write a memoir instead. When I lost my way, either through terrible (though well-meaning) advice, or too much gusto for rearranging, I found my way back through the answer to a simple question: Why did I care about this story in the first place?
Reminding myself of what haunted me, and why it mattered, helped me anchor back into the personal, emotional journey of a family caught in the jaws of history.
Shadow Child explores questions of identity, motherhood, womanhood and sisterhood. It looks at how we inherit trauma, and how race and ethnicity influence how we see each other, and ourselves. And, sadly, it is timely: a reminder of America’s history as an immigrant country, and also of the human toll of war, and in particular, nuclear war. But at it’s heart – because that is what was in my heart – it is a journey through forgiveness, and an exploration of what we do for love.