#aww2020 · 2020 Reviews · book bingo · contemporary fiction · dual time frame · historical fiction

#Book Bingo 2020 Round 9: ‘Themes of Culture’- The Things She Owned by Katherine Tamiko Arguile

Book Bingo 2020 is a collaboration challenge I am completing for the third year with my favourite bloggers, Theresa Smith Writes and The Book Muse. On the second Saturday of each month, beginning on Saturday 11th January 2020, Theresa, Ashleigh and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The Book Bingo 2020 card contains a total of 12 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year, with the aim to complete the whole card by December. To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us, there is no crossover – that is planned anyway! We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post, tagging us on social media, posting in Page by Page Book Club with Theresa Smith Writes  or by visiting our blogs The Book Muse and Theresa Smith Writes.

Years after the death of her cruel and complicated mother, Erika is still surrounded by the things she left behind: an onigiri basket, a Wedgwood tea set, a knotted ring from Okinawa. Against her Japanese family’s wishes, Erika has also kept the urn containing her mother’s ashes and bones, refusing to put Michiko’s memory to rest. She ignores her grief, throwing herself into her work as a chef at a high-end London restaurant. But when a cousin announces that she will be visiting from Japan, Erika’s resolve begins to crack.

Slowly the things Michiko owned reveal stories of her youth amid the upheaval of Tokyo during and after the Second World War. As the two women’s stories progress and entwine, Erika is drawn to Okinawa, the island of her ancestors. It’s a place of magic and mysticism where the secrets of Erika’s own past are waiting to be revealed.

Beautiful and mysterious, The Things She Owned explores the complexity of lives lived between cultures, the weight of crossgenerational trauma, and a mother and daughter on a tortuous path to forgiveness.


‘She’d found the act of arranging her mother’s pretty pink- and-green Wedgewood tea set on it reassuring. The cups, saucers and plates, the teapot, sugar pot and milk jug, the cake stand and its cake slice- all matching- had exuded a solid reality that kept her anchored. And yet looking at them now, these familiar objects suddenly feel strange and out of place, as if she’s seeing them for the first time.’

The Things She Owned is a truly exquisite story that looks at a complex mother and daughter relationship, family lineage, grief, war experiences and intergenerational trauma. Katherine Tamiko Arguile’s debut novel also represents a rich cultural odyssey, revealing a great deal about life in both Tokyo and Okinawa.

Erika lost her mother over a decade ago but when her cousin comes to stay with Erika, old wounds and new truths are revealed. Erika had a complicated relationship with her mother and as a result she has been unable to put the ghosts of her mother’s past to rest. A collection of personal treasures Erika still owns from her mother’s past is the catalyst she needs to finally make peace with her mother’s memory. From an old tea set, to a ring and birth certificate, Erika still retains these important items from her mother Michiko. Not only has Erika refused to let go of these objects, she also has her mother’s ashes, which is against her mother’s Japanese heritage. With the help of her cousin Erika finally confronts her mother’s difficult past. Erika uncovers many stories about her mother’s upbringing, the impact of the Second World War, her relationships and sadness. Erika is compelled to take a trip back to a place of great significance to her mother and their family, the Japanese island of Okinawa. It is here at this beautiful island locale that Erika will finally make peace the past.

Resplendent, elegant, poised and passionate. These are just some of the words that came to mind when I sat down to reflect on and write my review of The Things She Owned by Katherine Tamiko Arguile. I feel a little saddened that I very nearly let this magical book pass me by. I recently tuned in to a Better Reading author event with the very talented debut novelist Katherine Tamiko Arguile and I was soon seduced by the power of this culturally rich tale.

The Things She Owned is structured via a dual style narrative that deftly takes the reader from the past to present, traversing Japan, the island of Okinawa and modern day London. The book is also relayed from the point of view of both Michiko and her daughter Erika. Both sets of narration resonated deeply with me and I felt fully involved in the respective character life paths. Katherine Tamiko Arguile embeds herself in the viewpoints of Michiko, a troubled woman and Erika, her traumatised daughter. Both leads are clearly drawn on the pages of The Things She Owned and they are supported by a wonderful periphery cast. These secondary characters add an extra sheen to this brilliant tale.

The Things She Owned is defined by carefully considered spaces in the narrative that introduce pivotal objects owned by Michiko, which have been inherited by her daughter Erika. These personal belongings and cultural artifacts provide us with further lead in clues as to Michiko’s closely guarded life and hidden truths. Above all, one item in particular provides the key Erika needs to unlock the mystery surrounding the identity of her unknown father. The author goes to great pains to underline the features, history and significance of this cache of personal effects. From a tea service, a cabinet, necklace, ring, knife and a basket among others, each is accompanied by a fascinating cultural story. I found this to be such a creative and unique way to format a novel.

Rarely have I read a story that encompasses a Japanese point of view of the impact of the Second World War. The Things She Owned provides a strong human face to the ordinary people of Japan and how individuals, their families and generations after were devastated by the aftershocks of World War II. Learning more about Michiko’s journey, her painful experiences and the long lasting trauma this woman endured helps us better understand Michiko’s often very cruel actions. In Erika’s narrative, we see a deeply hurt woman, who channels her grief into her work as a chef. Erika buries her pain and Erika’s disconnection to her culture is a dominant theme throughout the novel. When Katherine Tamiko Arguile takes the reader to the beautiful and mystical island of Okinawa, we are confronted with another full cultural experience. I loved the customs, cultural experiences, the mysticism and magical folklore that I encountered thanks to this magnificent book. Above all, I enjoyed sitting side by side with Erika and Michiko in this immersive cultural affair.

There are just so many wonderful layers to peel back as you make your way through The Things She Owned and I promise you it is worth it. The end was written beautifully, it was incredibly meaningful and it offered closure to the characters. I have no hesitation at all in giving my full recommendation of Katherine Tamiko Arguile’s ornate debut, The Things She Owned.

***** 5 stars

The Things She Owned by Katherine Tamiko Arguile was published on 28th April 2020 by Affirm Press. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Things She Owned, Katherine Tamiko Arguile, visit here.

The Things She Owned is book #100 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge

5 thoughts on “#Book Bingo 2020 Round 9: ‘Themes of Culture’- The Things She Owned by Katherine Tamiko Arguile

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