A Nisei’s story of being confined in an internment camp during World War II and hardscrabble years afterward, interspersed with a diary of high-altitude hiking.
Manzanar was the internment camp where teenage Umemoto, with his family and many other Japanese Americans, was relocated for three years during the war. Mt. Whitney, “The Big One,” was visible from Manzanar’s plywood barracks then. However, it took nearly 60 years before the author, as a senior citizen, was able to scramble to the top of the formidable promontory. Though Umemoto reveals a bit about California’s Japanese-American culture, the author’s story is mild and not particularly deep. Without much drama, Umemoto sets forth his journey from internment to success as a print-shop proprietor, and he discusses two marriages and his time in the military in Tokyo. Interposed are narratives of difficult trudges where the author was lost, fatigued or frozen—though his adventures never take on a sense of actual danger. Once, he wished he brought a Gore-Tex jacket, and once, an attempt to gnaw a frozen energy bar was fruitless since his dentures couldn’t make a dent in the thing. Perhaps this is the sort of intermittent memory piece that might attract intrepid readers, but the clear metaphor doesn’t work. What might have been an affecting memoir, a different sort of American story, reveals little that is memorable.
Though touching on the unique Japanese-American experience, this is ultimately an inoffensive, pedestrian trek.