This is the third blog article in a series about the importance of food in YA literature.
SACRIFICE, COMMUNION, & FELLOWSHIP
In NO SURRENDER SOLDIER (Merit Press, Jan. 2014) food is significant both literally and symbolically. In Guam, 98 percent of people are Roman Catholic. As a result, Guamanians host huge fiestas, many celebrating villages’ patron saints. The protagonist in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is a 15-year-old Chamorro boy, Kiko. This YA novel takes place in 1972 during the Vietnam civil war.
The antagonist is a WWII Japanese soldier, Isamu Seto, who has been hiding in the Guam jungle for 28 years. Because the soldier, called a straggler by Guamanians, is a survivalist, he suffers from food deprivation. So, in my novel there is both abundance and shortage of food. The physical and symbolic nourishment and deprivation is evident especially in sacrifice, communion, and fellowship.
The week before a fiesta a family slaughters a pig. In NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, although Kiko’s family is no longer farmers, they still raise a pig for special fiestas. The first time Kiko slaughters his pet pig with his grandfather it is a both a rite of passage for Kiko and an act of sacrifice.
Throughout the story Kiko increasingly has to make sacrifices as his grandfather’s dementia worsens. One way this sacrifice is shown symbolically is in the ways Kiko can’t eat like he would have beforehand. Kiko’s grandfather, Tatan San Nicolas, had left something on the stove and burnt the kitchen. Kiko also can’t go to the ocean to fish or collect seafood from the reefs because he needs to look after his grandfather, whose safety is increasingly threatened.
For 28 years Isamu Seto, a WWII Japanese soldier who hid rather than fight the US Marines or commit hari-kari (suicide), has sacrificed and suffered deprivation in his effort to survive. Seto’s time and thoughts are continually spent hunting and preparing food, and dealing with hunger.
There is a Communion scene in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER. Communion is an act of sharing with someone in close relationship. Here’s a passage that shows an example of communion and sacrifice—and food, oh, the food!
After communion we were swept outside to fiesta under the canvas covering. No longer the solemn atmosphere of novenas—prayers for the dead—as noisy throngs of people crowded around tables overflowing with food.
I took a deep breath to smell the red rice stained with achiote seeds, finadeni sauce, empanadas, lumpias, Filipino noodles marinated in ginger, soy and rice wine. My mouth watered at the sight of mangos, papaya, guava, breadfruit, coconut, and tart little mountain apples that were pickled, baked, juiced, or offered whole and unspoiled.
But at the center of the fiesta, like a sacrifice on the altar, was smoked pig. My pig. Simon. I felt proud.
“Amen.” Father finished the blessing prayer. “And dig in!”
The priest led the procession down the tables, pausing over each dish as if it were a rosary bead.
Seto experiences broken communion with man and his Buddhist and Shinto god/goddess. He is visited by ghosts who haunt him. Here is an example of how in one scene Seto is trying to appease a ghost who asked why Seto let his comrades kill him:
… Or that your friends would cut our hands and feet, slice our guts, and leave us to rot?
Seto cried, Please, have mercy! Let me be! Have mercy on me!
Seto knew not what to offer them. He had no shrimp nor betel nut. His gods had
no power to restore life. Broken, Seto filled a coconut shell with milk and tossed it to the ceiling.
Mercy’s not ours to give. They departed up through bamboo and Earth. All that remained was the smell of burnt oil and dripping milk.
Some of my warmest memories of Guam are when I was invited to join in fiestas because it’s a time of fellowship. In one scene in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER an incident happens (sorry, trying not to give spoiler) and when neighbors hear about it they spontaneously bring over food and set up make-shift tables outside and have a big community pot-luck dinner.
There are several scenes where Kiko is upset and he refuses food offered to him and leaves the area where people are eating together. This shows broken fellowship. Food offered is a gift, and refusing the food is a slap to that person’s gift of friendship.
With Seto, the same holds true. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but when you read the story you’ll see how Seto receives food in situations where he feels safe and can trust, and how he refuses food in situations where he feels threatened or lacks trust.
There is a lot more I could say about this topic, but not without giving away spoilers. I would love to hear about other books where you find food very important to the story and theme. Next week on Veteran’s Day/Remembrance Day read about food in GRAFFITI KNIGHT by Karen Bass, a historical YA novel set during WWII Germany.