Leslie Shimotakahara

Leslie Shimotakahara, a young, disenchanted English professor, struggles to revive her childhood love of reading. Returning home to Toronto to rethink her life, she bonds with her father Jack over discussions about the lives, loves and works of the novelists on their shared reading list -- Wharton, Joyce, Woolf and Atwood, to name a few. But when their conversations about literature unearth some heartbreaking, deeply buried family secrets surrounding Jack's own childhood -- growing up Japanese-Canadian in the aftermath of World War II -- Leslie's world is changed forever. Could discovering the truth about her father's past hold the key to her finally being happy in love, life and career?


The Reading List reveals how literature can sometimes help us expose our past, understand our loved ones and point us toward our future.


"An engrossing and charming memoir about getting back to basics: home truths, family, and the life-altering, life-saving power of books."      Emma Donoghue, author of Room


"At times eloquent, moving, shocking, laugh out loud funny, even charmingly awkward, The Reading List is an ambitious and noteworthy debut by a brave young writers."    Jury of the 2012 Canada-Japan Literary Prize


To purchase The Reading List,​ click here.

Forthcoming from Dundurn Press in September 2019


Family secrets surface when two sisters travel to Hong Kong to care for their ill father.


When Jill Lau receives an early morning phone call that her elderly father has fallen gravely ill, she and her sister Celeste catch the first flight from Toronto to Hong Kong. The man they find languishing in the hospital is a barely recognizable shadow of his old, indomitable self.


According to his housekeeper, a couple of mysterious photographs arrived anonymously in the mail in the days before his collapse. These pictures are only the first link in a chain of events that begin to reveal the truth about their father's past and how he managed to escape from Guangzhou, China, during the Cultural Revolution, and make a new life for himself in Hong Kong. Someone from the old days has returned to haunt him -- exposing the terrible things he did to survive and flee one of the most violent periods of Chinese history, reinvent himself, and make the family fortune. Can Jill piece together the story of her family's past without sacrificing her father's love and reputation?


"An intricate, mesmerizing tale of family and identity.... Beautiful and bruising."   Janie Chang, author of Dragon Springs Road


"Shimotakahara displays virtuosity in this subtle deconstruction of one family's tainted origins."   Kirkus Reviews


To pre-order the book, click here.

To read an excerpt, click here.

A daughter’s search for her mother reveals her family’s past in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War.

Lily Takemitsu goes missing from her home in Toronto one luminous summer morning in the mid-1980s. Her daughter Rita, a high school art teacher, knows her mother has a history of dissociation and memory problems, which have led her to wander off before. But never has she stayed away so long. Unconvinced the police are taking the case seriously, Rita begins to carry out her own investigation. In the course of searching for her mom, she is forced to confront a labyrinth of secrets surrounding the family’s internment at a camp in the California desert during the Second World War, their postwar immigration to Toronto, and the father she has never known.

Epic in scope, intimate in style, this novel blurs between the present and the ever-present past, beautifully depicting one family’s struggle to face the darker side of its history and find some form of redemption.


"Personal and entrancing, unflinchingly shining a light on this difficult part of history."   Booklist, starred review


"Shimotakahara joins a rank of garlanded Canadian authors."    National Post 


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An excerpt from chapter one can be read on the 49th Shelf here.