A contemplative examination of Japanese-American relations on the personal level, through four stories set in a Washington State town. Iritani, a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has delved into the history of Port Angeles, Wash., and the Olympic peninsula in order to demonstrate that encounters between Americans and Japanese there did not start in 1987 when the Daishowa company bought a Port Angeles paper mill but, rather, began a century and a half earlier. Iritani starts with three shipwrecked Japanese sailors who were washed up on an American beach in 1834, enslaved by Makah Indians, and used by British and American traders as a device for gaining entrance to a closed Japan. The next two stories are the most intriguing, focusing on WW II and the damage the war caused to individuals within the two nations. One Japanese-American family was forced to survive first their father's abandonment and then the dismantling of their lives as they were sent to an internment camp. Another family lost a sister to a bomb delivered by a Japanese balloon—the only attack on American civilians during WW II. The remaining family members are initially pleased and eventually annoyed when, 40 years later, the women who manufactured the balloon as schoolgirls demonstrate their sorrow with an unending series of ceremonies and gifts. The last and longest story has few surprises: It's an account of how Japanese paper-mill managers try to instruct individualist workers in cooperative thinking. Iritani tends sometimes to veer toward the melodramatic and to force connections between four stories that stand on their own as glimpses into two societies, both American and Japanese, that have often been obscured from outsiders. With the exception of her last tale, Iritani's narrative is a fresh and revealing approach to a now familiar theme.
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