The Things She Owned by Katherine Tamiko Arguile is an Exceptional Debut

The Things She Owned by Katherine Tamiko Arguile is an Exceptional Debut

The Things She Owned by Katherine Tamiko Arguile transports the reader between times, countries and cultures, in a beautiful story about grief, resilience and the legacy of what we leave behind.

Years after the death of her cruel and complicated mother, Erika is still surrounded by the things she left behind: an onigiri basket, a Wedgwood tea set, a knotted ring from Okinawa. Against her Japanese family’s wishes, and Japanese tradition, Erika has also kept the urn containing her mother’s ashes and bones, refusing to put Michiko’s memory to rest. She ignores her grief, throwing herself into her work as a chef at a high-end London restaurant. But when a cousin announces that she will be visiting from Japan, Erika’s resolve begins to crack.

Slowly the things Michiko owned reveal stories of her youth amid the upheaval of Tokyo during and after the Second World War. As the two women’s stories progress and entwine, Erika is drawn to Okinawa, the island of her ancestors. It’s a place of magic and mysticism where the secrets of Erika’s own past are waiting to be revealed.

Beautiful and mysterious, The Things She Owned explores the complexity of lives lived between cultures, the weight of cross-generational trauma, and a mother and daughter on a tortuous path to forgiveness.

I have a long history with Japan: I lived there for many years, I married a Japanese man and our children are proud of their Japanese heritage, so this book sang to me on so many levels. It’s also refreshing to read a story that humanises the war experience for Japanese civilians.

In a Q&A, author Katherine Tamiko Arguile says, “My mother was six years old on the ‘Night of Black Snow’, when bombs dropped by American B-29s obliterated a quarter of central Tokyo over the course of a single night in March 1945. While the leaders of Japan’s militaristic government ordered acts of atrocity overseas, Japanese civilians, especially children, suffered as civilians do everywhere when they are caught up in war.”

My mother-in-law was a child in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped, so much of what I read here felt familiar after knowing her stories. She now lies in a nursing home with radiation induced Parkinson’s, unable to speak. So the themes of multi-generational trauma in The Things She Owned hit hard. But you don’t need a connection like mine to love this beautifully written story. The themes of grief and loss and pain are universal.

The story unfolds over two generations against a backdrop of Second World War Tokyo, early-2000s London and the Japanese island of Okinawa. We alternate between Erika and her mother Michiko, and deep into the complicated legacy of their relationship.

Interspersed throughout are ‘the things she owned’… Michiko’s belongings that Erika now has, that act as a catalyst for Erika’s grief to finally emerge. I thought this was an excellent way to structure this story and enjoyed learning about these possessions: a tea service, a birth certificate, a fate binding ring, a water-tumbled stone, among others.

The Things She Owned is Katherine’s debut novel, and it is an exceptional one. It will linger with me for some time. Utterly wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews

Take a Sneak Peek at The Things She Owned by Katherine Tamiko Arguile

Review | Extract

8 May 2020

Take a Sneak Peek at The Things She Owned by Katherine Tamiko Arguile

    Q&A with The Things She Owned Author, Katherine Tamiko Arguile

    Review | Author Related

    5 May 2020

    Q&A with The Things She Owned Author, Katherine Tamiko Arguile

      Synopsis

      Years after the death of her cruel and complicated mother, Erika’s house is still full of the things Michiko left behind: an onigiri basket, a Wedgwood tea set, a knotted ring from Okinawa. In defiance of Japanese tradition, Erika has also kept the urn containing Michiko’s ashes, refusing to put her memory to rest. Erika throws herself into working as a chef at a high-end London restaurant and pretends everything is fine. But when a cousin announces that she will be visiting from Japan, Erika’s resolve begins to crack.Slowly the things Michiko owned reveal stories of Michiko’s youth amid the upheaval of Tokyo during and after the war. As the two women’s stories progress and entwine, Erika is drawn to the island of Okinawa, the homeland of her grandmother. It’s a place of magic and mysticism where the secrets of Erika’s own past are waiting to be revealed.Beautiful and mysterious, The Things She Owned explores the complexity of lives lived between cultures, the weight of crossgenerational trauma, and a mother and daughter on a tortuous path to forgiveness.
      Katherine Tamiko Arguile
      About the author

      Katherine Tamiko Arguile

      Born and raised in Tokyo, Katherine Tamiko Arguile is an Anglo-Japanese author and arts journalist living in Adelaide, where she runs a small coffee business with her partner, which she juggles alongside her arts journalism and writing career.Along the winding road to becoming an author she’s worked in art galleries, as an advertising executive, complementary health practitioner, marketing manager and a ‘Sneaker Pimp’ for Adidas. She was once a club DJ and flamenco dancer but now loves the quieter pursuits of baking, printmaking, gardening, yoga and long-distance running.Katherine has won various writing awards, and her prize-winning short stories have been published in several anthologies. The Things She Owned was written for a PhD at the University of Adelaide, and is Katherine’s first novel.

      Books by Katherine Tamiko Arguile

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