Patrick Ryoichi Nagatani’s”The Race – Tales in Flight” is a special book.
It is a self-described novel, yet it is in a genre all its own. At its most basic, the book is a story of 15 women of different ethnicities who are in an air race, each flying solo, from Tokyo to San Francisco. The winning pilot gets a pot of money.
Each pilot flew a World War II-era Supermarine Spitfire, a single-seat British fighter converted to a modern floatplane.
But the story is less about winning and more about the pilots using the hours of flight time to think – think about ideas to better understand themselves and one another as women living on the planet below. Those myriad thoughts become evident in reading the insightful, extensive commentaries and meditations from each of the 15 pilots.
For one, Christine Banfield, flying Silver 1 (each plane has a different color and number), recalls how rewarding the pre-takeoff discussion of the 15 pilots was: “The aspect of how community, in this case a community of diverse, intelligent and compassionate women, becomes the unifying force that will allow us to move forward on all issues, including a nuclear-free environment and saving the Earth.”
In Orange 3, Tibetan-born pilot Hamidah Gyamtso, a Buddhist nun, says early religions have had “misogynstic views of women. … Thank goodness for scholars like Joseph Campbell,” who enlightened her with ideas on the “transformation and endurance of the archetypal symbolic powers of the feminine divine.”
Flying Black 8 was Ruth Coleman, an African-American. She said her Aunt Bessie, a pioneering flier, inspired her to be a pilot. Ruth’s bonding with Hamidah and Nanibah Jackson, the Laguna-Navajo pilot of Yellow 13, gave her new self-understanding. Hamidah and Nanibah drew out long-suppressed thoughts Ruth had about herself.
One discovery is having found her spiritual self and through that revelation, finally accepting the hawk as her spirit animal.
In the epilogue, Keiko Kobahashi, who excavated and refitted the Spitfires, and chose the fliers, told the pilots, “The Race was not about the competition but about the collective journey. It was about the inner travels in each of you —— the catharsis, the epiphanies, the self-forgiveness.”
Kobahashi said she was resigning her post as CEO of Japan’s Mitsubishi Industries and would use her wealth to build in Hawaii a learning center to teach techniques of organic farming, energy independence and other community needs, as well as a power grid of wind turbines and solar panels, and a healing center. The pilots were invited to move there to work toward the goal of empowering all women.
Nagatani is a professor emeritus of photography at the University of New Mexico, an award-winning photographer and a storyteller. His tales have been expressed through photos, collages and mixed media.
Think of “The Race” as a gift, a visionary book that can open eyes and ears, and most important, expand minds.
Nagatani is the book’s principal author. Eleven others, 10 of them women, contributed text.