What can I say about this book?
I can say that I think the appeal is in the subject matter rather than in the writing.
I can say that, like with Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, this book dealt with a subject that is both a black mark on the history of the United States and a subject that most people don’t talk about.
I can say that I thought the characters were a bit flat. They seemed there to further the storyline rather than existing in their own right.
I enjoyed the thought exercises that resulted from considering the topics in this book, but I didn’t find it a joy to read as literature. Ford often used more words than were necessary; he did more telling than showing, if you will. Not that I’m not guilty of the same thing. I am. I’m always using extraneous words. Maybe that’s why I notice it when another writer does it.
I found Henry to be a little unrealistic as a 12-year-old. The book I’d read just before this one was Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, in which the protagonist was also a 12-year-old boy, bullied at school, hoping for the approval of his parents, and in the midst of a forbidden love. Of course, Oskar’s love was a vampire, not Japanese, but the other similarities stand. I bring this up because I found Oskar to be much more believable as a 12-year-old than I found Henry to be. Yes, Henry is from a Chinese family in the 1940’s during a war. He’s got considerably greater responsibilities than Oskar has. But Henry has no toys. He reads no books. He listens to one radio show, but that’s only mentioned once in the course of the book. He hangs out listening to jazz on the sly because his parents wouldn’t approve. I could see maybe a 15-year-old, maybe even a 14-year-old doing something like that, but 12? I just don’t quite buy it.
When I lived in Utah, I attended a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temple. It had been founded in 1912, I think, by the Issei who were working in labor camps in the Salt Lake Valley, originally drawn to the area to work on the railroad. Today, it is still the center of Japanese culture in the Salt Lake City area. It’s also little more than 100 miles from the Topaz internment camp, which held Japanese-American “evacuees” for 3.5 years during World War II. I never talked with the other people at the temple about Topaz or the war years. I don’t know what their experiences or their parents’ and grandparents’ experiences were during that time, or if any of them were held at Topaz or elsewhere. This book got me thinking about my sangha at the temple in Utah from a different angle. It reminded me that, while I felt at first like an outsider, I was welcomed warmly by this community for whom the welcome had not been so warm mere decades ago. It helped me appreciate even more the caring and compassion my family were shown there.
And check it out: This is my 500th post! I should have balloons or confetti or fireworks or something. Maybe at 1,000.