The Japanese women’s suffrage movement as viewed through the accomplishments of a remarkable immigrant.
Beate Sirota Gordon (1923-2012), daughter of Russian and Austrian Jews, moved at the age of 5 with her family to Tokyo, where she was immersed in Japanese language and culture. The outbreak of World War II formed a backdrop to college studies in California that opened her eyes to gender equality. In 1945, Gordon returned to Japan as an interpreter for the occupying U.S. Army. There, she drafted clauses for the new Japanese Constitution that granted Japanese women suffrage as well as protection from gender-based discrimination. Gordon’s story is a remarkable tribute to the value of bilingualism, cross-cultural competency, and courageous commitment to justice. Unfortunately, Japanese feminists’ efforts—which suffered setbacks due to economic depression and the outbreak of war—are touched upon only glancingly, and the grinding poverty that led to fathers’ selling “daughters like fish at the market” is not mentioned. The book risks being read as a white-savior narrative in which the wretched Japanese were reformed by an enlightened foreigner importing ideas from a culture that was in fact facing struggles of its own; by saying little about the legal and cultural barriers to equality that many Americans also faced, readers are left without valuable historical context. The richly colored paintings uplift the story, conveying strong emotion and drama through expressive facial expressions and varied perspectives.
Valuable and inspiring, though lacking needed context. (author’s note, references, bibliographic notes, timeline) (Picture book/biography. 7-11)