February 19 marked the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. The order forced the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans–citizens and their immigrant parents–for the duration of World War II.
Many Americans do not know about this horrendous chapter of U.S. history. Because the best way to educate oneself is to read, and because today is Free-Reading Friday, I thought I would share a few books on the topic that might be of interest to you.
1. Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II by Richard Reeves is a good place to start if you want information. Infamy is the most comprehensive, thorough history I have read on the topic. Reeves explains what happened and why. The book is well-written. It is non-fiction, but I often felt as though I were reading a novel.
2. Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald is the author’s own story of her family’s evacuation from Vashon Island, Washington shortly after Pearl Harbor. The author provides one of the better descriptions I’ve read of camp life. Her telling of the yes-yes/no-no crisis is especially effective. Because the author was seventeen at the time of evacuation, this is also a coming of age story.
3. Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston is another excellent memoir of someone who experienced imprisonment at the hand of her own country. Jeanne Wakatsuki was only seven years old when her family was evacuated from the West Coast and “relocated” to Manzanar.
4. When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka is a short novel which tells about the internment experience from the points of view of the various members of one family. It is a quick but powerful read.
5. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a novel by Jamie Ford, offers a slightly different perspective. Set in Seattle during World War II, the story follows a young Chinese-American boy who befriends a Japanese-American classmate. This is one of my favorite books of all times. The hotel featured in the novel, the Panama Hotel, still stands. If you’re ever in Seattle, it would be well worth your time to arrange a tour.
These are just a few of the many books on the subject of Japanese-American internment. I welcome you to comment with your favorite titles.
My daughter, husband and I were fortunate to have the current owner of the Panama Hotel in Seattle take us on a guided tour. I highly recommend the experience.