Kira-Kira is a simple, tragic, and in its own way elegant book, about the human tragedy of dealing with loss and suffering. Cythia Kadahota’s work is defined by the death of Lynn, the sister of the main character Katie,, but also the struggle for assimilation into a broader community and above all else simple life and dignity.
There is little that is very innovative about the book, in a rather straightforward story. But this doesn’t remove its strong points: that it raises powerful emotions, beyond just sadness, in te family, with anger, helplessness, frustration: it is able to paint a real image of the troubles of a family and imperfect people. Imperfect - this is the best word to describe the characters within: not particularly smart, special, extraordinary other than Lynn, not geniuses, but not stupid either - filled with common sense and the simple dignities of ordinary people. They are people like any other, with diverse concerns and thoughts, even in a time of crisis, and how they respond to stress, pain, and loss is striking. Above all else the feeling of things which simply slip by is deeply relatable: one doesn’t realize until the final moments that a momentous thing has passed, and life simply goes on. It is a feeling which has surely grabbed all of us: that it is only afterwards that we become aware of a moment in time where everything changed.
If it dealt with the subject of this alone, that of death, it would be shallow and already done to death before (the Death of Ivan Ilyich springs to mind as a similar tale), but it also includes the harshness of working conditions, the difficulty of making a living, and above all else the ultimate solidarity of the workers and the triumph of the union which brings their liberation, despite the obstacles that stand against them. Company thuggish repression, bullying, and private interest in oneself alone and one’s own interests first and foremost, with its attendant require of bowing to authority to save one’s hide - all powerful forces at work, but overcome by the workers who rise up to claim a better live for themselves and their children. The triumph of the union enables the book to end upon an upbeat note, despite all of its pain within.
Kira-Kira is a young adult book, so perhaps it is unfair to expect more intricacy from it: however, it is hard not to feel that the book is a bit shallow in its treatment of most subjects. It doesn’t delve much into the relationship between the Japanese and the white inhabitants of Georgia, other than the Japanese being initially ignored, and how Lynn's beauty helps her to break out of the social isolation, and the white man who rushes Sammy to the hospital shows how desperate times and unprejudiced individuals can overcome otherwise iron social boundaries. but this really doesn’t delve deeper into how being Japanese impacts the subtle side of relationships between the Japanese and whites, much less relationships between the Japanese and blacks, who are all but absent. And its portrayal of community life in the Japanese settlement is sadly limited.
In the end, it depends on one’s tastes in literature: those who prefer short and simple will find it pleasingly direct and its sparseness comfortable, while more demanding readers look on it as childishly simple - although still capable of stirring deep emotions. A good young adult book, but nothing astounding.