A Bridge Between Us Summary
by Julie Shigekuni

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A Bridge Between Us

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Set predominantly in San Francisco during the 1890’s to the 1980’s, this highly readable novel traces the intersecting love and hate of four women from four generations of a Japanese American family. In psychologically probing, vividly evocative prose, the novel is narrated through intensely felt monologues of the women, allowing readers to judge and understand.

Loss is the insistent motif, Reiko’s opening monologue starts with the death of her emigre father and flashes back to her aristocratic mother’s desertion of their family, defeated by immigrant life in turn-of-the-century California. Reiko’s three subsequent marriages are losses—to an incompetent from Japan, to a lower-class Japanese American, and to a disastrous Caucasian known as Mr. D.

Reiko and her only daughter Rio are tragically entangled in a web of hurt and hate. Reiko dislikes Rio for being an ugly baby and blames her for becoming the victim of Mr. D’s sexual abuse. During the internment in a World War II relocation camp, Reiko prevents Rio from marrying for love, manipulating her into an unhappy marriage of convenience instead.

Rio repeats her mother’s cycle of losses—of mother’s love, of a worthless first husband, of the man she loves. Her second husband, too, becomes a sexual abuser (of their granddaughter), and Rio loses her desire to live.

Rio’s daughter-in-law, Tomoe, becomes the family’s selfless caregiver, catering to three generations of unhappy women. Thus burdened, she suffers an anguishing loss of self.

Nomi, Tomoe’s younger daughter, represents the fourth generation. Chronically stricken by diffidence and guilt, she is sexually violated by her grandfather, becomes sexually promiscuous as a teenager, and gives away an illegitimate baby. Losing her innocence, her child, and her sense of self-worth, Nomi’s name is, fittingly, a homophone of “no me.”

Shigekuni’s artfully crafted and grippingly told novel laments the woes of four generations of women. It furnishes some piercingly painful psychological insights into the complications of mother- daughter relationships gone awry and constitutes a distinctly worthwhile addition to the recent efflorescence of Asian American writing.