Marcia Strykowski

Library Community Read

A group of our local libraries are doing an important community read where a great many people all read the same books on a chosen subject.

The first book we read–They Called Us Enemy by George Takei with gorgeous illustrations by Harmony Becker– led to a great book club discussion. There were 15 attendees at our location. We were a hybrid version, which means some participate virtually on a big screen while others attend in-person. After sharing thoughts about this well-done graphic novel, we decided one small way we could perhaps help prevent history from stupidly repeating itself over and over again is to spread the word about books like this one. It was sadly shocking how little most of us knew about these appalling American concentration camps of the 1940s. I’d recommend for ages 12+up.

Here’s what the publisher [Penquin Random House] wrote about They Called Us Enemy:

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What does it mean to be American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins co-writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.

The next book on our reading list is Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Although I really enjoyed listening to Jamie’s Love and Other Consolation Prizes, I never found time to read his blockbuster debut hit, despite already owning a copy, so I’m excited to dig in. I’ll be starting the audio version on my commutes this week which always brings even more to the story. Also, Jamie will be speaking locally in May which should be interesting, an event I’m looking forward to. And again, I’m sure our book club will have a lot to discuss at the meeting that follows soon after. Below from the publisher’s website:

Author JAMIE FORD characterizes his interest in Seattle’s historic Nihonmachi and Chinatown as a “fascination.” The central idea for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet grew out of a conversation Ford had with his father about an “I Am Chinese” button that his father wore as a child in the 1940s. In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, many Chinese families in Seattle feared for their safety, as respected members of the Japanese American community were being interrogated by the FBI regarding the nature of their connections to Japan, a declared enemy of the United States during World War II. Ford’s interest in his father’s “I Am Chinese” button inspired him to write a short story of the same name, which eventually became a chapter in Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. In the course of his historical research for another story, Ford encountered an article about the belongings of interned Japanese families found in the basement of the Panama Hotel in Seattle. After an on-site visit to Seattle in which he was able to see these relics firsthand, Ford expanded the story in Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to one about a Chinese boy and his Japanese friend who confront the specter of internment at an especially poignant time in their young friendship.

The library’s nonfiction book group is reading Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown. I’ve heard this is a powerful read and unlike They Called Us Enemy which is written from a child’s point of view, true atrocities of war are described in this well-done adult work. Below, a blurb from Viking Books:

In the days and months after Pearl Harbor, the lives of Japanese Americans across the continent and Hawaii were changed forever. In this unforgettable chronicle of war-time America and the battlefields of Europe, Daniel James Brown portrays the journey of Rudy Tokiwa, Fred Shiosaki, and Kats Miho, who volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and were deployed to France, Germany, and Italy, where they were asked to do the near impossible. Brown also tells the story of these soldiers’ parents, immigrants who were forced to submit to life in concentration camps on U.S. soil. Woven throughout is the chronicle of Gordon Hirabayashi, one of a cadre of patriotic resisters who stood up against their government in defense of their own rights. Whether fighting on battlefields or in courtrooms, these were Americans under unprecedented strain, doing what Americans do best—striving, resisting, pushing back, rising up, standing on principle, laying down their lives, and enduring.

I’m adding one more book to this group even though it’s not part of our community read. A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata is a beautifully written novel, mostly aimed at ages 10-14. It received many awards along with major five-starred reviews. Here’s a note from Simon & Schuster:
A Japanese American family, reeling from their ill treatment in the Japanese imprisonment camps, gives up their American citizenship to move back to Hiroshima, unaware of the devastation wreaked by the atomic bomb in this piercing and all too relevant look at the aftermath of World War II by Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata.

That’s a wrap! I hope you enjoy one or more of these books and in sharing what you’ve learned can help subtly spread the word about major mistakes done to fellow human beings.

18 Comments

  1. Joyce Ray

    Great post! I’ve read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet- wonderful! I did not know of the other titles. Thank you for raising awareness at your library!

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    • Hi Joyce, nice to hear from you. Perhaps you’d enjoy the upcoming May event with Jamie Ford, if not too far.

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  2. Thanks for the book recommendations!

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  3. All great books to read and discuss. Cynthia Kadohata is a very good writer and I loved her book Kira-Kira. The internment of Japanese Canadians happened in Canada as well. I was moved to tears when I read Obasan by Joy Kogawa. She also tells the same story in Naomi’s Road for children. Another book that includes internment is Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. A topic worth discussion.

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    • So hard to imagine now, and in Canada, too. 😦 Thanks so much for adding titles of interest, Darlene!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Marcia, thank you for these excellent reviews. All the books sound extraordinarily compelling and I am very interested in historical books with a war element.

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    • Great, I hope you’ll enjoy reading some of these and thanks for letting me know. I love historical fiction, too!

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  5. Bette Norton

    It is sad that history keeps repeating itself. Your review on these books is well written. A wonderful selection of books that hopefully can make a difference and an awareness in the mindset of the community at large. Thank you for this post.

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    • You’re welcome, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Yes, hopefully these kinds of books will enlighten a few mindsets.

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  6. Hi Marcia! Thank you for a terrific post. You have the best book recommendations and excellent reviews. I have heard much about They Called Us Enemy. As a proud American, I am ashamed that we treated Japanese Americans this way. Thank goodness for these books.

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  7. I did know of these titles, Marcia. I’m going to get them, they look interesting. Thanks for sharing.😍

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  8. Marcia thank you for sharing your wonderful book reviews. I have often felt how wrong it was for the American Japanese here in our country during WWII – It is good to know that there are books out there telling the side of these Americans and what they suffered. I hope you are having a good start to May.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Debbie Nolan

    Marcia wonderful book review. I have often wanted to read more about the American Japanese and what happened to them during WWII. So hard to understand what it must have been like for these Americans to be treated to this injustice. May it never happen again. Hope you are having a wonderful start to May. Hugs!

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    • Thanks so much, Debbie; I appreciate your comments. I hope you are having a lovely May, as well. ❤

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