Farewell to Manzanar, the featured book in tonight’s book discussion is a superb story of one family’s struggle to survive the forced detention and mass incarceration of Japanese American citizens during the Second World War.
For those who are only vaguely aware of the history behind this true story, Farewell to Manzanar will serve as a stunning eye-opener. To those who are intimately familiar with the record, it will nonetheless add a deeply human and individual perspective to what otherwise might remain an abstract evil.
The book, written jointly by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and her husband James D. Houston, relates how 7-year-old Jeanne and her extended family, uprooted from their home in Southern California, endured the humiliation of internment in the crowded Manzanar camp with 10,000 other Japanese Americans in the dry and desolate Owens Valley of Central California.
I recommend this beautiful little book to any of you who wish to learn more about this deeply disturbing blot on American history, especially young adults who may not previously have been aware of the events related. You will find it simultaneously heartwarming and haunting, sad and funny, and wonderfully human.
A Brief Excerpt
“On a low hill the gravestones tilt crazily, as if trying to wrench loose from the soil.
“‘It was the bomb,’ Toyo explains. ‘Even here, fifteen miles away, like an earthquake sent to rip the world in two.’
“Woody, gazing at the stones, says, ‘Were many in our family lost?’
“‘We were lucky,’ Toyo says. ‘Only one. He would have been your cousin. None of the rest of us were in the city then.’
“‘And is he buried here?’
“‘No. He was near the center of the fire storm. But let us not talk of that. I did not bring you here to talk of that. Do you see this stone?’
“‘Your father was buried here in nineteen thirteen.’
“Woody looks at her, wondering how old she really is, wondering how well she remembers. She is Papa’s aunt. She must be eighty. He studies her face for some measure of how far her recollection can be trusted. He thinks of Granny, not yet this old, but blind, forgetful, full of needs that must be cared for and tales everyone half listens to. Toyo’s not at all like that. She has a monk’s tranquility. Her eyes are still alert. Her face shows both the burden and the full understanding of all her eighty years or more.
“With great care Woody says, ‘But I told you, he lives in California now, today, alive, with ten children, of which I am the second oldest.’
“‘In nineteen thirteen he had been gone for nine years with no word. To the family in Japan, he was dead. This is his gravestone. I show it to you so you will know how much he mattered to us here, so you will know how happy you have made me bringing this news that he still lives. The happiness I feel now erases all this war has put us through.’
“Woody looks away, tears welling in his eyes. He stares at the stone, the characters engraved on it. When he looks back at Toyo he expects to see her weeping. She isn’t. She gazes intently at him, as if he is ready to disappear, as if to imprint him in her mind before he is gone.
“‘Come,’ she says. ‘We don’t want to linger here. There are many things to see, many relatives to meet. Everyone will want to see Ko’s son.’