Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

Archive for the tag “Japanese Americans”

NaBloPoMo 25. It’s Monday. What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday. What Are You Reading? 

Several weeks ago, I posted a book review of The Red Kimono by Jan Morrill. This book tells of a Japanese family who lived in San Francisco at the beginning of WWII, but who were forced from their home to live in an internment camp in Arkansas.

002Karen, my reading buddy, gave me another book on the same topic. When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka. This short novel of five chapters and 132 pages tells the story of a Japanese family destroyed by a war with which they had no part. Each member of the family tells a part of the story, picking up the story where the previous member left off.

Chapter 1. “Evacuation Order No. 19.” The narrator begins with the mother, who has no name, and tells her story in an unemotional, detached manner. It is almost as if the mother is a bystander who watches the story unravel in front of her, and the story is so painful that she cannot bear to be a part of it. She sheds no tears. She locks her feelings within and does what she must do to comply with the posted evacuation orders that have appeared around Berkeley, CA., in the spring of 1942.

She goes home and methodically dismantles her life. (Her husband, a well-to-do, well-traveled businessman, has already been arrested and taken to a military prison as a Japanese enemy alien.)  She sorts and packs for the imminent forced move, puts some things aside, throws others away, and burns or destroys the treasures that formed the core of her character: family photographs, three silk kimonos, a Japanese flag, and the abacus. She dispatches the White Dog, the chicken in the yard, the family bird, and the bottle of plum wine in quick order. Tomorrow they leave for an unknown destination for an unknown amount of time, where time and days will melt together in the heat.

Chapter 2. “Train” The nameless 11-year-old girl, with something of an attitude, picks up the story and describes the train trip to the internment camp in the desert at Topaz, Utah, where the mother, the girl, and the boy, begin life in one of the hundreds of tar-paper shacks with no running water, surrounded by barbed-wire fences. In clips of daily life and flashbacks, the girl portrays the hopelessness of their situation.

Chapter 3. “When the Emperor Was Divine” In the beginning of the stay in Topaz, the eight-year-old boy thought he saw his father everywhere, but he was not to be found. The boy watches the mother despair about their living situation. At night, he dreams of the father, the Emperor, and the cute little blonde girl who lived nearby back home. The nameless boy remembers her full name: Elizabeth Morgana Roosevelt. He, perhaps, holds out the most hope for the family: at least the father can find them here in the internment camp.

Chapter 4. “In a Stranger’s Backyard.” The story moves to third-person plural point of view. “We.” The mother, the girl, the boy each receive twenty-five dollars and train fare to go home to a life very different from life before the war.

Chapter 5. “Confession” The father speaks in first person, “I,” and tells his story of pain, humiliation, and of being imprisoned for being “too short, too dark, too ugly, too proud.” He may be free now from captivity, but he is definitely not free.

The stories tell the story in this book. The mother, the girl, the boy do not tell of the emotional pain they suffer; they show it. Readers will feel the depth of their pain as they follow these four individuals through three dark years and traumatic years.

This book succinctly describes a terrible time in our American history. It is well worth reading to gain a perspective on this historical period and the innocent Japanese Americans who suffered through it.

WANAFriday: Red is for . . . The Red Kimono

Each Friday, the WANA112 group posts a prompt for members to consider. This week’s prompt is a color: Red.

On my desk sits a book, The Red Kimono, by Jan Morrill, featuring an exquisite red kimono on its cover.001 (23)

Jan Morrill posted Vlogs (video blogs) of short excerpts from The Red Kimono during a 30-day vlogging challenge in April, and I happened to stumble onto one of them. Her short readings intrigued me, so I bought the book on Amazon.

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On December 7th, 1941,  the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.

Japanese Americans, both naturalized and American-born, who have lived in the United States for years, now face intense social and political scrutiny based on the shape of their faces, the slant of their eyes, the language they speak in the privacy of their own homes, and the cultural differences they display. . .  all because of the aggressive actions of a country they’d left years ago.

A Japanese American family living in San Francisco (naturalized parents, American-born children) hear the sobering news report on the radio about the devastation at Pearl Harbor. Papa and Mama instinctively know their lives will change. Nobu (17) and Sachiko (9) gain that same understanding later that day. Harassment and bullying are fast teachers.

An African American family, originally from the deep South, receives news that John Terrence Harris has been killed during the Pearl Harbor attack, leaving 17-year-old Terrence and little sisters, Missy and Patty, fatherless.

Terrence, tormented by grief, vows revenge, gathers two friends to stalk a Japanese man, any Japanese man, and harass him. They find Papa in the park with Sachiko and attack, kicking and punching, leaving him so brutalized that he is hospitalized in a coma.

Two families: entangled in grief, sorrow, anger, hatred, disbelief, racism; yet there is hope, always hope.

The story unfolds for Nobu, Sachiko, Mama, and Terrence through alternating chapters. Each person carries burdensome memories, sorrows, emotions, and secrets too painful to voice. Nobu, Sachiko, and Mama struggle to understand their new lives without their beloved Papa in this strange Arkansas internment camp. Terrence struggles with black-white prejudice in jail. The outcomes for each of these casualties far from Pearl Harbor differ, and that is the story.

I enjoyed this book, though its themes are both humbling and haunting: man’s inhumanity to man brings sorrow and disrupted lives. Tragic circumstances combine to create a compelling story, and Morrill weaves it all together in her highly successful first novel.

You can find Jan Morrill on her website and her blog, Jan Morrill Writes.

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Here’s how my WANA112 friends have interpreted this prompt:

Ellen Gregory: Five favourite things RED
Kim Griffin: Red, Red, They Call Me Red
Liv Rancourt: Why Red? Why Remodel? Why Make Resolutions?
Tami Clayton: The Color Red, Powerful, Luscious, and Tasty
Kim Griffin: Red, Red, They Call Me Red

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