THE CLIMATE OF THE COUNTRY by Marnie Mueller

THE CLIMATE OF THE COUNTRY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Life in the wartime Tule Lake Japanese American Segregation Camp, in a nuanced yet strangely unaffecting tale of a pacifist’s struggle to reconcile his beliefs with the camp militants’ violent behavior. Mueller (Green Fires, 1994) was herself born in Tule Camp, where her parents carried on lives not dissimilar to those of protagonists Esther and Denton Jordan and their three-year-old daughter, Parin. Here, she ably evokes the locale’s bleak prairie setting and the cramped living quarters of both the resident Japanese and the Americans—but this isn—t enough to make Denton the complex man that he should be. Instead, as Mueller tells the story of his struggle to maintain the prosperous Japanese-run cooperative he’s established, and his efforts to deal with his Jewish in-laws (not sympathetic to his pacifism), Denton comes across as terminally smug. Though Esther remains loyal, his obsessive commitment to his work wears her down, as do the camp’s isolation and growing divisiveness. When the US Army takes over the camp, young Japanese militants begin a campaign of violence and confrontation that threatens not only to compromise Denton’s ideals but to undo all his hard work. A group assaults him; Tokura Honda, who runs the cooperative, is murdered; and Denton feels both sides” distrust intensifying. While Esther visits her family in San Francisco, he begins a highly charged affair with a nurse. And though he’s tempted to join the army, his principles will win out. Which is fine, though somehow not all that moving. Mueller grapples, often admirably, with complex subjects . . . but never quite masters them.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-880684-58-6
Page count: 305pp
Publisher: Curbstone Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999




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