Hancock Library News
I am now reading and enjoying "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" by Jamie Field. It is set in Seattle during the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. It is a narrative in which the story switches between 12-year-old Henry in 1942 and a 56-year-old Henry in 1986. Henry is the son of Chinese immigrants and he forms a friendship with Keiko Okabe, a 12-year-old Japanese girl. Henry hides the relationship from his parents, who would disown him if they knew he had a Japanese friend. His father insists that Henry wear an "I am Chinese" button everywhere he goes because Japanese residents of Seattle have begun to be shipped off by the thousands to relocation centers. Another appealing aspect of this story is young Henry's fascination with jazz and friendship with Sheldon, an older black saxophonist just making a name for himself in the many jazz clubs near Henry's home. When Henry hears that the belongings of Japanese immigrants interned during WWII have been found in the basement of the Panama Hotel he goes looking for things Keiko might have left behind. Although this is a fictional book, the facts about the internment camps are true. This led me to do some more research for myself about these camps.
In March 1942 (three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor) President Roosevelt established the War Relocation Board, and the complete evacuation of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast was ordered as a security measure. Many of these were second generation Japanese having been born in America and not even knowing the Japanese language. Camp Harmony, at the Puyallup, Wash. fairgrounds, was a temporary detention center for Japanese "evacuees" on their way to camps farther inland. Ten concentration camps were then established that would eventually hold more than 110,000 people. Camp Minidoka was located near Hunt, Idaho and in August 1942 the government began transporting Japanese-Americans to the camp via train. Most Minidoka residents came from Seattle and Portland and were given notice only one week before being forced to move. Ten thousand people were interned in tar-paper barracks that had no insulation, running water, or interior walls, and that were heated by coal-burning stoves. Barbed wire, guard towers, armed guards, and watch dogs secured the 950 acre site.
Despite forced internment, many Japanese-Americans served bravely in the U.S. army. An all Japanese-American military unit -- the 442nd Regimental Combat Team -- fought in the Italian campaigns, and became some of the most decorated soldiers. Years later, the American government acknowledged that even war could not justify the treatment of West Coast Japanese Americans. Apologies were made, pardons granted and monetary redress paid. But nothing could make up for all the lost dreams.
I love books that are set in cities where I may have visited. My sister lived in Washington when I was young and so I went to visit a few times. We always went by train---I loved the train. I remember when I was 10 and my parents took me to Breckenridge to board the "Empire Builder" for the 36 hour trip to Washington by myself--but it was great fun!! Many of the names of places and landmarks in this book are familiar to me and so that is enjoyable.
"The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea"- quote by Isak Dinesen (author of "Out of Africa")
I'm taking the sea!!
See ya at the Library!