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Ruth Rodgers's new historical fiction novel exposes painful truths

Halfmoon Bay's Ruth Rodgers releases novel ‘Those who Return,' which follows several generations of a Japanese-Canadian family – from 1880 to 2002. 
A. Ruth Rodgers (credit Michael Gurney)
Author Ruth Rodgers reads from her novel Those Who Return at Sechelt’s Seaside Centre.

Author, artist and Halfmoon Bay resident Ruth Rodgers unveiled her latest work of historical fiction during a public reception at Sechelt’s Seaside Centre on May 13. Those who Return is a story that follows several generations of a Japanese-Canadian family from 1880 to 2002. 

The book is the third novel in Rodgers’s “Sunshine Coast series,” which began with Those Who Wander in 2019 and Those Who Stay in 2020. 

Rodgers’s books explore the stories of marginalized identities whose characters grapple with the consequences of ignorance and discrimination. Her extensive research for Those Who Stay — which chronicled impacts of residential schools on Indigenous families — involved interviews with shíshálh Nation members.  

In immersing herself in Japanese-Canadian history for Those Who Return, Rodgers followed her customary practice of obtaining permission from witnesses and knowledge keepers to reflect their stories. 

“It’s very important to me that I not appropriate people’s culture or try and speak for them,” Rodgers said. “The reason I tackle it at all is that I feel that it’s really important that these stories be told as often as possible and from many different perspectives.” 

Rodgers, who retired from full-time teaching in 2013, continues to serve as a part-time instructor at Durham College in Oshawa, Ontario. After relocating to the Sunshine Coast, she also cultivated a passion for painting. 

“I’m a perpetual learner,” she said. “I’m very curious about things. I always want to know more and then I like to test myself. What does interest me is pushing myself and measuring myself against myself and trying to improved both with my painting and in my writing. I think what drives me is a terrible fear of boredom.” 

Those Who Return begins with the arrival of Haruto “Harry” Sato in Esquimalt after a grueling transpacific journey. Sato is a character whom Rodgers says is the composite of many Japanese immigrants. Rodgers’s expository style offers a clear understanding of the scope of real-life events before illustrating their effects on relatable characters swept into the maelstrom of history. 

The forced internment and expropriation of Japanese-Canadians is the book’s crux. Its looming shadow makes the protagonists’ pre-war pursuit of love and affluence especially poignant. Its long twilight endures through the family’s diaspora and a heroine’s 100th birthday at the turn of millennium. 

Rodgers depicts intricately-connected communities — such as Japanese-Canadian internment camps in East Lillooet and Ontario — where resilience shines through deceptively-simple pastimes like baseball. 

“What struck me in my research and in my interviews with Japanese-Canadians is how forgiving they have been,” said Rodgers. “They say to me, ‘Well, what else can we do? There’s no point in continuing to hate and be angry. It just destroys everybody, you know.’ But really, I’m not sure I’d be as forgiving if people treated me like that.” 

Over two dozen people attended Rodgers’s launch of Those Who Return, which included a Power Point presentation by the author about her research process.  

The book is for sale at Talewind Books in Sechelt, Earthfair Books in Madeira Park, BC, and from online retailers.