A romance novelist who threw it all away: Winnifred Eaton Reeve

Posted by on Sep 13, 2015 in Books, Brian's Blog, Radio | 0 comments

You look at the pictures and you wonder how did she get away with it? How did Winnifred Eaton Reeve, a Canadian from Montreal with no family connections to Japan, manage to pass herself off as Japanese for more than 40 years? That’s the question CBC Radio host Chris dela Torre put to me this morning on his program Daybreak Alberta as we talked about this featured character from my new book, Rogues and Rebels: Unforgettable Characters from Canada’s West.

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Using the pen name Onoto Watanna, Winnifred Reeve became a hugely successful writer of Japanese-themed romance novels in New York at the turn of the 20th century. She never actually visited Japan. Everything she knew about that country came from her research at the New York Public Library. She invented a fake biography for herself, saying that her mother was a Japanese noblewoman and that she was born in Nagasaki. She kept up the pretence until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. After that, Reeve admitted she felt ashamed that she had adopted a spurious ethnic identity and maintained the deception for so long. “My success was founded on a cheap and popular device,” she said. “I had sold my birthright for a mess of pottage.”

You can hear the full interview on Daybreak Alberta by clicking HERE and scrolling down to the third audio clip. Rogues and Rebels, published by University of Regina Press, will be released on Tuesday Sept. 15.

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