The Electrical Field


305 pages
ISBN 0-676-97126-1
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is the trade, scholarly, and reference editor of the
Canadian Book Review Annual.


Toronto writer Kerri Sakamoto won the 1999 Commonwealth Best First Book
prize for this engrossing and tightly written novel about three
Japanese-Canadian families and the lingering effects of their internment
during World War II.

Set in a small Ontario community in the 1970s, The Electrical Field
opens with a double murder. The victims are Chisako, the wife of Yano, a
fervid campaigner for redress, and her white lover. Coinciding with the
murders is the disappearance—one that ends in tragedy—of Yano and
his two children by Chisako. The novel’s wildly unreliable narrator is
the middle-aged Asako Saito.

Obsessive housecleaning, spying on neighbors, grudgingly caring for her
bedridden father, squabbling with a living brother, and worshipping the
memory of a dead one are the sum total of Asako’s woefully
circumscribed existence. Though she sees herself as compassionate and
giving, she is gradually revealed to be precisely the opposite: cold,
withholding, pathologically envious, brutal in her dismissal of her
father’s humanity (“He was nothing now, less than an infant”).

At one point, Asako reflects: “All my life, what I’d felt had been
the promise of nothing. The risk of nothing, which had frozen me to
ice.” This rare insight is, predictably, glossed over in the next
sentence: “Even as a child, ... I had been capable of great
restraint.” Of course, the reader knows better. Asako’s warped
personality, it becomes clear, has at least in part been shaped by her
refusal to confront her childhood experience of internment and the facts
of her brother’s death. We see the devastating effects of this denial
when Asako’s role in both the murders and her brother’s death is
finally revealed.

Readers of this complex and haunting novel will not soon forget its
thoroughly unsettling narrator–heroine.


Sakamoto, Kerri., “The Electrical Field,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 17, 2024,