I recently read ‘Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet’ by Jamie Ford. The novel was too sentimental and sickly sweet for my tastes but the central story of the effect of the Second World War on Americans of Asian heritage was a fascinating one and led me to explore further. I have already written about ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ by David Guterson which also covers some of the same ground as Hotel… Bitter and Sweet’. The Guterson novel is far superior in my view.
However, my searches led me to a graphic novel by American writer and illustrator Matt Faulkner. His book tells the story of Koji, a boy with mixed heritage. His father is Japanese and his mother is white American. He is an American until the attack on Pearl Harbour on his 13th birthday changes everything for him. As he lives with his mother in San Francisco he is considered a threat to national security. Not make matters worse, his father is in Japan visiting a sick relative. This makes the authorities even more suspicious of the boy and his mother.
Along with thousands of other Japanese Americans, Koji is interned. His mother chooses to enter the camp with him rather than send him alone.
The story is a moving one. Koji’s mixed heritage makes him a target for the Japanese boys in the camp and he is suspicious of the army officers who take an interest in his mother. He is a boy who is unsure where he fits in or why he is no longer welcome in the country of his birth. The early scenes, just after the attack on Pearl Harbour, are the most affecting. Here we see he reaction of the public to anyone who looks Japanese. Koji is refused transit on a cable car, his Principal is hostile and his school friends are now his former school friends.
This book explores an important part of US history through a personal story. Showing the pain inflicted on a family because of events out of their control is a powerful reminder of how a civilisation can act when threatened.