The story of two young Japanese-American men who enlist in the 442nd Regiment, a segregated unit of Japanese-American soldiers and white officers that fought in the European Theater.
Before getting to the war, Hughes provides an on-the-ground view of the American government roundup of Japanese immigrants and citizens after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, their detainment, and eventual transport to internment camps. As seen through the eyes of Topaz internees Yuki and his friend Shig, fighting for the United States would redeem their honor as Americans, but gradually their perspective changes. They learn that honor is not a public display but rather something earned (or not) by comrades undergoing extreme hardship and covering one another’s backs. Hughes sends these men through the wringer. They endure foot rot and the stress of taking the next hill (which is worse is up for grabs), and they also grapple with the consequences: how does one reconcile shooting a kid, even if he’s an enemy soldier? Yuki reflects that “what he and Shig were doing—and the Germans, too—was brutal, disgusting,” and he would “spend his life trying to remove all this ugliness from his head and his hands.” Throughout, Hughes never shies from the institutionalized bigotry that put these Americans of Japanese ancestry into harm’s way more than their fair share of times.
Nuanced and riveting in equal parts. (Historical fiction. 12-16)