Asako Serizawa’s Inheritors tells the story of a Japanese family caught up in history and questions of identity from the early 1900s to a few decades from now, always wondering what might have been if different decisions were made. Even though it’s made up of linked short stories, I found this book to be a slow burn—most of the “action” happens off the page and we generally see our characters wrestling with feelings of survivor’s guilt, regret, and anger.
The first story in the collection, “Flight,” is one of the oldest in the book’s chronology and is one of the few that’s not set in Japan. These differences are superficial, however, as this story introduces a theme that will play out over and over in the decades that follow. A child of this particular family (their surname is not given) will be separated from the larger family, either through choice or by accident. Ayumi, the protagonist of “Flight,” is separated by a bit of both. Like so many of her nieces and nephews, she will always wonder if she made the right choices.
Many of the later stories revolve directly around World War II. Several members of the family are dissidents, but two end up serving the Imperial Japanese Army. Tanaka went so far as to change his name so that he could sign up as a soldier. Another is dragooned into working for the notorious Unit 731. Later, two “brothers” meet up after finding each other years after the Tokyo firebombing ruined one life and transformed another for the better.
Because much of this book deals with the emotional aftermath of momentous events, we are given plenty of opportunities to think about how family and history push us into certain identities. For most of his life, Maasaki knew that he was the adopted child of Masaharu and Masako. Learning that he is not actually Japanese but the child of Korean workers throws him for such a loop that it destroys his relationship with his American wife and half-American children. One weight of history is suddenly swapped for another, apparently heavier, one.
Inheritors is a meditative look at history and identity. It was a little slow for my taste, but I very much appreciated the way it looked at choice and fate.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.