In her debut, Grant (English/Penn State Univ.) teases out the story of her Japanese grandmother’s internment during World War II.
The author weaves rich supporting material throughout the narrative, providing a solid context for the relocation and internment of 112,000 Japanese throughout the West. For much of the book, Grant coaxes recollections from her grandmother Obaachan, “prying information from her that she prefers to keep herself.” After being wrenched from their San Francisco home shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Grant’s family was sent to a relocation camp in California, where her grandparents met and courted, walking the Pomona fairgrounds that served as their initial internment camp. Later relocated to Heart Mountain, Wyo., they continued their relationship, married and raised their first child. Grant offers a chronicle of daily life in the camps, with its unfamiliar American food, lack of privacy and modesty, baby gifts from the Quakers, intense cold and craft classes to help pass the time. The Japanese concept of shikataganai—surrendering to whatever fate lies ahead—pervaded the culture of the camps, fostering despair and listlessness. This is also the story of a young woman navigating her marriage to a strong but exacting personality and family ties weakened by the stress and separation of internment. Eventually the couple left Wyoming for a chance to work in a food-processing plant in New Jersey, where they settled in and quietly absorbed the shame of their incarceration.
Well-written book about life in a Japanese internment camp and the social and political forces that allowed their existence—though Obaachan’s reticence subdues the emotional intensity of the story.