One Man's Quest
by Melissa De Silva
This is a narrative nonfiction account of filmmaker and lecturer Wesley Arozoo's journey from Singapore to Onagawa, Japan, to meet with a man who goes diving in the sea to look for his wife, who disappeared in the 2011 tsunami during the Great East Japan earthquake.
Some of the writing is beautiful and the insights affecting:
'If love is blind, then losing love is like triggering all the other senses to follow suit, to shut down. Suddenly, it doesn't matter what's for lunch; advice from close ones fall on deaf ears; familiar scents of the other half slowly fade away and you wish you could hold onto your loved one for just a minute longer so that everything will return to how it was.' (p.1)
Wesley does a superb job of articulating himself as a character on the page, conveying with vivid charm his introspective nature, his sensitivity to others and the world around him, and a careful reticence prompted by the clear cultural divide between himself and Mr. Yasuo Takamatsu.
Another pleasure of the book is the gentle humour that flashes throughout:
'According to belief, if you pay a visit to the old Shinto shrine once a year for three years, you will have no financial difficulties for the rest of your life. The island is also home to a number of deer and Japanese macaques that are coincidently also debt free.' (p. 96)
Wesley’s own wife, who remains in Singapore while he and his camera person and ex-student Jon Chan travel in Japan, is a strong presence in the story due to the author’s constant thoughts about her and anecdotes about their life together. I felt it would have contributed to the narrative if more had been made of her presence, teasing out its significance so it contributes more directly to the meaning of the story, perhaps in drawing a parallel or contrast with Mr. Takamatsu’s former relationship with his wife, or some other significance.
I would also have loved to have delved more deeply in Mr. Takamatsu’s head, into his thoughts, preoccupations, fears, regarding his wife’s loss and absence, perhaps through an extended interview reported in direct speech. Even though the story is ostensibly about him, at times I felt his presence was a bit obscured, not only because of the need for translation via the character Miki Hawkinson, who was the translator accompanying them on the trip, but also because of what appears to be the natural reticence of Mr. Takamatsu himself when he did reply to questions posed by Wesley. At times I wished the author had asked him more direct questions about how he felt about certain things or about his motivations, though I appreciate the challenge that might have posed when one feels obligated to observe niceties and be respectful of the interviewee’s privacy.
What I also felt could have added to the narrative was more reflection on why the author was drawn to this particular man’s story. It would have been great to read more of the author's insights throughout on what compels this man to continue diving for his wife's remains. No doubt, it is intriguing, as the sort of thing that would make the news, but I am interested in what particular hold the story of Mr. Takamatsu’s quest had on Wesley. Was there something in Wesley’s past, his present, his fears, that found their resonance in Mr Takamatsu’s experience of losing his wife and dedicating his life to looking for her, through the not exactly convenient, if not downright frightening means, of deep sea diving? I found I had many questions about both Wesley’s motivations for pursuing this story, and about Mr Takamatsu’s motivations for pursuing his wife’s remains as I progressed along the story, and would have liked if I could have found the answers in the narrative through the author’s musings, which is one of the joys of creative nonfiction.
Still, the human story presented is mesmerizing—how a man does not give up on the search for his wife's remains, how an ordinary, mild-mannered Japanese man makes himself do extraordinary things, like learning to dive, and continues making underwater forays in all kinds of weather in this never ending search.
An area where this book really shone were the details of the trip, recounted to make every moment so tangible, from the author’s irritation that the passenger in front of him on the plane had the window wide open to the glare of the afternoon sun, to a madcap grocery store dash to stock up on before they traipse off on an expedition. They had me nodding or smiling as I could relate to these very human experiences.