Saturday, May 31, 2014

Historical Fiction Takes a Look at Little Known WWII Events

I don't get to Southern Pines, NC, nearly as often as I'd like, but when I do, I make sure to stop in at the Country Bookshop there on the main street. I've seen some authors reading there, and I never leave empty handed.  I have learned one thing about all indie bookstores:  the people who work there--particularly the owners--care about books.  While there, I've eavesdropped on the conversations the gentleman at Country Bookshop as he guided shoppers, asking just the right questions before pointing out a book or two.

On a visit a few months ago, he pointed out Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer, a novel based on events that occurred near where the author grew up in the Arkansas delta: a Japanese Internment Camp. The narrator Chess Morton is a young girl raised by her Italian mother, living next door to the landed parents of her father who died when she was very young.  Schiffer sheds light on the levels of racial prejudice not only the black-white conflicts associated with the South, but toward Italian immigrants and especially after Pearl Harbor, toward the Japanese-Americans.  Even the class difference between Chess's mother and her in-laws, wealthy landowners who sold the land for Camp Nine, is apparent.

When Chess's mother volunteers to teach in the camp, Chess goes along and develops a friendship with the two Matsui brothers, one who ends up going into the army, and the other more rebellious son who slips out of camp where he befriends a local blind musician Cottonmouth Willie.  The Matsui family faces conflict when the father doesn't answer yes to two questions 27 and 28 on the "Application for Leave Clearance" required of all the Japanese-American citizens, resulting in his arrest and the mother's shame.

Other books, including Snow Falling on Cedars by Guterson, have dealt with the shameful treatment of these American citizens during WWII, resulting in loss of homes, property, businesses, but this is the first I knew of such relocations to the American South. Schiffer handles the fictional account in what I found an evenhanded way.


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