My sister, Lynn, taught me my first word: kira-kira. I pronounced it ka-a-ahhh, but she knew what I meant. Kira-kira means "glittering" in Japanese. Lynn told me that when I was a baby, she used to take me onto our empty road at night, where we would lie on our backs and look at the stars while she said over and over, "Katie, say 'kira-kira, kira-kira.'" I loved that word! When I grew older, I used kira-kira to describe everything I liked: the beautiful blue sky; puppies; kittens; butterflies; colored Kleenex.
I picked up Kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata at the library, in the Italian translation by Alessandra Orcese. It's about an American-Japanese girl growing up in Georgia in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Kate Takeshima, the narrating voice, is a young girl who lives happily with her family in Iowa. Her favourite person and best friend is her older sister Lynne, who makes everything seem kira-kira, glittering and sparkling. When the family moves from Iowa to Georgia, Katie has to adapt to a different world, where people of Japanese descent are often subject to prejudice and racism.
Despite the poverty and difficult conditions of her family - especially her parents working long hours in a poultry company - Katie seems oblivious to what is going on, until the day Lynne gets ill with cancer. Her conditions get worse and worse, while the peace of the family is shattered - the parents working harder and harder to pay for expensive medical care, Katie and her younger brother having to fend off for themselves.
This is a touching, bittersweet novel, packed with many themes: love, grief, racism and prejudice, hard working conditions in the factories, illness, death, and going on with life. It is a very good book, albeit very sad.