Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai
To be 100% honest, this is only the second children and young adult book, and third book overall that I’ve read on the Japanese-American internment camps during WWII. There’s not a whole lot of literature on the subject, though there should be. This is one of those events that Americans should never forget because even though it wasn’t as bad as the German concentration camps, it was still wrong to discriminate and punish Americans simply because of their ancestry (though this has sadly been the case in one aspect or another throughout our country’s history). Overall I enjoyed the book, even though it couldn’t quite decide the story wanted to be told like an actual novel or a verse-novel (it kind of switched back and forth). I loved the cover photo by Dorothea Lang. It just completely describes the sadness and hopelessness the Japanese-Americans must have felt at being singled out and isolated from their fellow countrymen. Plus she’s a child, so it just makes it seem so much worse.
The story is about a 12 year old Japanese-American girl from Seattle named Mina. She lives with her grandfather, he only speaks to her in Japanese and calls her by her Japanese middle name, Mariko. She also lives with her parents and her older brother Nick. The story starts in Oct 1941 and the catalyst of the book is the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 by the Japanese. This sets in motion the movement of 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps, where they remained for the duration of the War against Japan. Mina and her family, like most Japanese-Americans, felt rather conflicted during this time. On one hand, they were Americans and proud to be so, but on the other hand, their ancestry and cultural heritage is from Japan. It is interesting to note, and something Mina points out in the book, that though Americans of German or Italian descent were somewhat discriminated against during WWII, they weren’t segregated like the Japanese.
Mina and her family must leave their house in Seattle and are sent first to a staging area in Washington state, where they were forced to live in a horse stall at a former fair ground, before being sent on to Idaho. They end up outside a little town called Eden, which started out as a barren dusty wasteland, but with the green thumb of the confined citizens, turns into something more evocative of the outside town’s name. Mina’s grandfather even manages to grow roses at the camp, despite limited resources. Her brother Nick fights against being a captive and “escapes” to the army to fight in the European theater as soon as he is able. Mina spends most of the book writing letters to her father, who was separated from the rest of the family (but later joins them), her white best friend Jaime with whom she shares half a heart necklace, and later Nick. They do eventually manage to return home to Seattle, though all are changed forever. Recommended for ages 12+, 4 stars.
Disclaimer: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.