Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Life in a Japanese Relocation Camp

by Michael L. Cooper

Age Range: 9 - 14

Pub Date: Nov. 25th, 2002
ISBN: 0-618-06778-7
Publisher: Clarion

The author’s visit to Manzanar, one of ten Japanese internment camps established during WWII, serves as the frame for this exploration of the forced evacuation of over 100,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans and their lives in the relocation camp. Cooper’s (Slave Spirituals and the Jubilee Singers, not reviewed, etc.) concise prose describes how the bombing of Pearl Harbor led to the building of the camps. Later chapters detail how the prisoners struggled to adapt to surreal, humiliating conditions, slowly introducing Japanese food to the mess hall menus, gardening, playing sports, and going to school. Drawing heavily on primary-source material, including archival and contemporary interviews with internees and excerpts from the Manzanar Free Press, the text allows the prisoners to speak for themselves. Archival photographs lavishly illustrate the narrative, and one of the volume’s greatest strength is the opening discussion of the many photographers who chronicled life in the camps, from Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and others brought in by the government, to Toyo Miyatake, an internee who was allowed to compose and set up his photographs but who had to have a camp staff person press the shutter. Each photograph is credited, so readers can distinguish between US government propaganda and more accurate portrayals of camp life. An end note describes the author’s sources, but there are no specific references within the text. One great weakness is the history’s abrupt end: there is no effort to document the internees’ return to life outside the camps. That said, this offering stands as a worthy addition to the literature of the internment camps; the author’s comparison of post–Pearl Harbor US to post-9/11 US underscores his passionate plea to remember. (Nonfiction. 9-14)