Front cover of Secrets of the Sun: A Memoir, by Mako Yoshikawa, featuring a photo of the author's father leaning one arm against a railing, with yellow sun-like rays over it.

Secrets of the Sun

A Memoir

Mako Yoshikawa

168 pp. 5.5 x 8.5

Pub Date: February, 2024

Subjects: Creative Nonfiction
Asian and Asian American Studies

Series: 21st Century Essays

Imprint: Mad Creek

Order Paperback $19.95 $15.96 Save 20% and get free shipping  ISBN: 978-0-8142-5893-4
Order PDF ebook$19.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-8319-6

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“In her harrowing, deeply felt new memoir, Mako Yoshikawa creates a haunting portrait of her troubled father, Shoichi, a brilliant scientist who led a fusion research team at Princeton University. Secrets of the Sun is the story of her father’s efforts to ‘unravel the mysteries of the universe’ even as he grapples with the effects of severe bipolar disorder. It is also the story of the author’s efforts to assemble the jigsaw puzzle pieces of his life and come to terms with his erratic, sometimes violent behavior and the role that racism and cultural dislocation may have played in the unhappy trajectory of his life. Like Mary Gordon’s The Shadow Man and Geoffrey Wolff’s The Duke of Deception, this book is an eloquent account of a writer’s quest to understand an impossible, larger-than-life father—and her own conflicting feelings of love and fear, confusion and dismay and forgiveness.” —Michiko Kakutani

“Moving and beautifully written. This poignant memoir is about a daughter’s hunt for answers and understanding about her father, his battles, and the complexities of their relationship.” —David Keymer, Library Journal

“After two lauded novels, Yoshikawa turns to memoir, revealing in 15 incandescent essays her struggles to understand the enigma that was her father. … Yoshikawa writes with gorgeous, unblinking lucidity through a morass of conflicting emotions and lingering shame to memorialize a father ‘elusive and capacious,’ yes, but also a man ‘intoxicated by stars . . . lit with the potential of science.’ Her closing acknowledgement to Shoichi will implode hearts.” —Terry Hong, Booklist (starred review)

“[A] deeply empathetic and human memoir-in-essays told with inquisitive subtlety.” —Kirkus

Mako Yoshikawa’s father, Shoichi, was a man of contradictions. He grew up fabulously wealthy in prewar Japan but spent his final years living in squalor; he was a proper Japanese man who craved society’s approval yet cross-dressed; he was a brilliant Princeton University physicist and renowned nuclear fusion researcher, yet his career withered as his severe bipolar disorder tightened its grip. And despite his generosity and charisma, he was often violent and cruel toward those closest to him. Yoshikawa adored him, feared him, and eventually cut him out of her life, but after he died, she was driven to try to understand this extraordinarily complex man. In Secrets of the Sun, her search takes her through everything from the Asian American experience of racism to her father’s dedication to fusion energy research, from mental illness to the treatment of women in Japan, and more. Yoshikawa gradually discovers a life filled with secrets, searching until someone from her father’s past at last provides the missing piece in her knowledge: the story of his childhood. Secrets of the Sun is about a daughter’s mission to uncover her father’s secrets and to find closure in the shadow of genius, mental illness, and violence.

“Intense and kaleidoscopic … This memoir is particularly brilliant at capturing the grief, guilt and fear that adults who experienced childhood abuse face when deciding how or whether to maintain a relationship with their abusive parent. The love beneath these more difficult emotions animated Mako’s pursuit of her father’s mysterious inner world.” —Catherine Hollis, BookPage

“If [her father’s] mental illness is to blame, Yoshikawa has nowhere to direct the anger that has built up in her after years of his abuse. This leads to several beautiful truths about the complexity of communicating with the mentally ill. … Insights like these into human nature manifesting in familial relationships make this slim volume about more than just one woman and her relatives, focused on an enigmatic father. Indeed, by exploring his past Yoshikawa understands more about Shoichi the man, which helps her forgive—a tall order—Shoichi the father.” —Katya Cengel, River Teeth

“Mako Yoshikawa’s heartfelt memoir navigates the complexities of her brilliant yet abusive physicist father, Shoichi. … Yoshikawa explores her father’s enigma, weaving a compassionate family portrait that confronts both his intellectual faculties and his violence.” —Lisa Wallin, Tokyo Weekender

“In this nuanced memoir, Mako Yoshikawa reckons with the enigma of her brilliant, terrifying father, creating a compassionate family portrait that does not minimize the complexity of his illness or the violence of his impact. The gaze is steady and the writing is beautiful. This book will haunt me.” —Joan Wickersham, author of National Book Award finalist The Suicide Index

“Heartfelt and beautifully written, Secrets of the Sun is a tale of two quests—a father’s to solve the mysteries of the universe and a daughter’s to solve the mysteries of the father. One of the most compelling memoirs I’ve read in some time.” —Jerald Walker, author of National Book Award finalist How to Make a Slave and Other Essays

“In this moving account of her brilliant and abusive physicist father, Mako Yoshikawa disentangles the twisted strands of racism, misogyny, and cultural displacement that complicate both his madness and her love. A fascinating exploration that expands the boundaries of what a family memoir can be.” —Ruth Ozeki, author of The Book of Form and Emptiness

Author photo

Photo by Rob Sabal

Mako Yoshikawa is the author of the novels Once Removed and One Hundred and One Ways. Her essays have been published in LitHub, Harvard Review, Southern Indiana Review, Missouri Review, and Best American Essays, among other places. She is a professor of creative writing and directs the MFA program at Emerson College. She lives in Boston and Baltimore.


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