Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Reading on a Theme: U.S. Incarceration Camps

It's been too long since our last World War II Wednesday. These books all tackle the incarceration camps that were built on American soil to hold primarily Japanese but also German and Italian Americans.

Haruko and Margot:
I absolutely adored Monica Hesse's first World War II novel, Girl in the Blue Coat, and, when I saw she was writing a book about the United States' WWII incarceration camps, it was a given that I would read it. Haruko is of Japanese descent and Margot is of German descent. The two would never have met if their families hadn't been detained in the same camp in Crystal City, Texas. The War Outside is the story of their secret friendship (and maybe more) across the invisible divide between the Japanese and German detainees. It's a book about the injustices of these events, made more poignant because it is about how those injustices impact individuals. 
The Takei Family:
They Called Us Enemy is a graphic memoir that recounts the years George Takei spent in Japanese Incarceration camps as a child during World War II. Personal stories like this really help to humanize history. To know the camps existed is one thing. To see how they impacted real people is another. It helps that George Takei is a household name these days. These events are not the distant past, and I'm glad that he was willing to tell his family's story. The incarceration impacts Takei's family, and how he understands his father. Their growing understanding of one another was one of the more poignant parts of the book. The artwork in this graphic novel is also stunning. It makes for a very emotional and resonant read. 
Evalina and Taichi:
Evalina Cassano is part of a close-knit Italian-American family, but she doesn't feel like she can tell them that her boyfriend is Taichi Hamasaki, the son of Japanese immigrants. Evalina and Taichi's relationship is further strained after the attack on Pearl Harbor, as Japanese-Americans begin to be sent to incarceration camps. The narration in Stephanie Morrill's Within These Lines switches between Taichi within the camp and Evalina, who is studying political science at Berkley and getting involved in political activism. I really enjoyed Evalina's character and how studious and passionate she was about current events. Also, the romance between Evalina and Taichi was so sweet.
Fourteen Teens from Japantown, San Francisco:
We Are Not Free tells the story of a group of young Japanese Americans who must leave their homes in San Francisco for the Japanese Incarceration Camps of the World War II Era. I loved that Traci Chee told this story with 14 narrators. It allowed her to explore the whole range of experiences and attitudes that went along with life in the camps. She was also able to move beyond the camps to the war front itself as some of her characters joined the 442 Regimental Combat Team that was made up primarily of Nisei soldiers. At the same time, the connection that all the characters had to one another and their home in San Francisco really kept the story grounded. This was a really powerful read. 
Elise and Mariko:
In 1943 Elise Sontag and her family are relocated from their home in Iowa to Crystal City, an incarceration camp for United States residents of German, Italian, and Japanese descent. There Elise meets Mariko, a Japanese-American from Los Angeles and the two become inseparable, and they dream of their life together after the war. Often with war fiction, the story ends with the conclusion of the war, but Susan Meissner's tale doesn't stop with the Sontags' return to Germany or V-E Day. The Last Year of the War is a reminder that the consequences of war linger far beyond the last shot fired.


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