A Bridge Between Us (book)
Creators: Julie Shigekuni
2011 book cover. Courtesy of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Critically acclaimed 1995 novel by Julie Shigekuni that is both a multi-generational family saga about a Japanese American family in San Francisco and a coming-of-age novel centered on a fifth-generation Japanese American woman growing up in a four generation household. The story—which includes the family's incarceration at Heart Mountain —is told from the perspectives of four women of different generations who live together in the family home in San Francisco.
Author Julie Shigekuni grew up in Los Angeles and attended the University of California, Santa Cruz, Hunter College and Sarah Lawrence College, graduating with an M.F.A degree from the last. She has taught creative writing at the Institute of American Indian Art and Mills College and is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of New Mexico. After the publication of A Bridge Between Us , her first novel, she was one of six recipients of the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award Literary Award in 1997. Shigekuni has since published two more novels: Invisible Gardens (2003) and Unending Nora (2008).
A Bridge Between Us tells the story of four generations of the Hito family living together in San Francisco over a twenty-year period stretching from around 1970 to 1990. The story is told in the first person voices of four women: matriarch Reiko, an older Nisei ; her daughter Rio; Rio’s daughter-in-law Tomoe; and Tomoe's younger daughter, Nomi. Over the course of the novel, the nearly century-long family history—and the complicated relationships between the women—is slowly revealed. Nomi—who ages from seven to twenty-seven over the course of the book—emerges as the main character in the second half of the book, her difficulties sometimes repeating those of her ancestors and her life drawing lessons from theirs. Reiko and Rio are incarcerated at Heart Mountain during World War II and Rio meets her husband there, though the scenes set there are fairly brief.
The book received almost uniformly positive reviews, with reviewers particularly praising the novel's emotional impact ("... conveys an element of hope and forgiveness, with an emotional depth not often found in first novels"; "...haunting and powerful coming-of-age story.")  , its handling of the different voices of the women ("Shigekuni's masterful handling of multiple narrative voices, ranging from a young second-grader's voice to a senile, cranky old woman's, helps us navigate through her exploration of mother-daughter relationships"; "The circling back on such charged events allows the quartet of women who share the storytelling—especially Nomi—to enlarge upon the narrative rather than merely claim it for themselves, a technique that gives the novel unexpected heft")  , and the universality of the story despite its distinctly Japanese American setting ("The perspective of the novel is at once singularly Japanese American and universally recognizable, a story in which old ways are hard to shake and unspoken words hang heavy in the air"; "... the novel rises above the single family and the special minority, speaking to everyone who will listen"; "While Nomi's story could not exist without the specific tensions of her heritage..., the lesson one takes from "A Bridge Between Us" is time-honored in every culture.")  Some reviewers found the narrative a little heavy. ("One can't help wishing for a few ripples of humor or irony in this relentless tide of self-examination"; "... the novel at times has trouble advancing beyond the cul-de-sac of dwelling on dashing hopes"; "...if the novel occasionally overheats, it's not so often as to be inexcusable.")  The book was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award.
- Patricia Abe, "Powerful Debut," Ms. 5.5 March/April 1995, 74; Judy Sokoll, School Library Journal , Aug. 1995, 172.
- Seiwoong Oh, Western American Literature 30.2 (Summer 1995): 225–26; Lisa Shea, "Not Above a Little Cruelty," New York Times Book Review , Mar. 19, 1995, 7.
- Abe, "Powerful Debut"; David Clive Price, "Family Way," Far Eastern Economic Review , Aug. 31, 1995, 48–49; Shea, "Not Above."
- Monua Janah, "Four Generations Under One Roof," San Francisco Chronicle , June 4, 1995, accessed on March 15, 2013 online at http://www.sfgate.com/books/article/Four-Generations-Under-One-Roof-Women-in-a-3031467.php ; Publisher’s Weekly , Jan. 2, 1995, 57; Kirkus Reviews , Dec. 15, 1994, accessed online on March 15, 2013 at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/julie-shigekuni/a-bridge-between-us/ .
For More Information
Shigekuni, Julie. A Bridge Between Us . New York: Anchor Books, 1995.
PEN Oakland Awards, http://www.penoakland.com/PEN-Oakland-Awards.html
Julie Shigekuni page at the University of New Mexico, http://english.unm.edu/people/faculty/julie-shigekuni.html .
Abe, Patricia. "Powerful Debut." Ms. 5.5 (March/April 1995): 74. ["The perspective of the novel is at once singularly Japanese American and universally recognizable, a story in which old ways are hard to shake and unspoken words hang heavy in the air."]
Bogenschutz, Debbie. Library Journal , February 1, 1995, 100. ["... a wonderful first novel of life in an extended Japanese American family.']
Imada, Adria. Hawaii Herald , May 19, 1995, A-18. [So it was with a mixture of guilt and disappointment, despite all that was supposed to resonate with me—experiences of a young woman growing up, difficult relationships between mother and daughters—that I finished the novel more troubled that moved."]
Kirkus Reviews , Dec. 15, 1994. ["Sometimes she seems to be pursuing the emotional underbelly in order to create drama, rather than having it rise organically from the story, but she always writes with great style- -if the novel occasionally overheats, it's not so often as to be inexcusable."]
Monua, Janah. " Four Generations Under One Roof. " San Francisco Chronicle , June 4, 1995. ["This is an intense and introspective book, written in limpid and economical prose. Shigekuni vividly evokes the mildly claustrophobic life of a large, tradition-bound family inhabiting a single house...."]
Oh, Seiwoong. Western American Literature 30.2 (Summer 1995): 225–26. ["Shigekuni makes a brilliant debut with this novel…"]
Oloizia, Richard. "Word of Mouth." Library Journal , June 1, 1995, 208. ["With insight and skill, the author delineates the bonds that unite these family members and the tensions and secrets that separate them…."]
Price, David Clive. "Family Way." Far Eastern Economic Review , August 31, 1995, 48–49. ["The hot-house intensity of this novel, with its Asian American vista of three generations under one roof, is not the stuff of which best-sellers are made."]
Publisher's Weekly , Jan. 2, 1995, 57. ["… a masterful picture of mingled identities and the tug of separation."]
Shea, Lisa. "Not Above a Little Cruelty." New York Times Book Review , Mar. 19, 1995, 7. ["… artfully evocative first novel…"]
Sokoll, Judy. School Library Journal , Aug. 1995, 171–72. ["This haunting and powerful coming-of-age story will elicit sympathy for the characters, yet will demand of YAs a careful reading for true appreciation."]
Wilkinson, Joanne. Booklist , Jan. 1, 1995, 801–02. ["Nomi’s distinctive voice, as fashioned by first-novelist Shigekuni, is by turns hard-edged and dreamy, conveying both her disaffection and her longing to connect."]