This was such a beautifully researched work of fiction, it almost feels wrong not to categorize it as a biography.
The book can’t be discussed without discussing its use of the first person plural, as in “Some of us read this book. Some of us only looked at it. Some of us never even heard of it.” It’s an unusual choice, and I could certainly see where it could get old. It’s a very slim book and for me, it was just starting to show some wear at the end. Mostly, I liked it. It created weird, simultaneous senses of scope and intimacy.
Anyway, the book is about Japanese women who were brought from Japan to San Francisco in the early 1900s. It follows their lives – their first looks at their husbands, their first nights as wives, their marriages, the endless and brutal work they did as fruit pickers (which was not what they signed up for, not at all), their children and their lives as mothers, their fear and paranoia at the beginning of the war as rumors spread of men being arrested and taken away.
For whatever reason, I was more interested in the first 3/4 of the book, but then came the end – if you know anything about American history, it’s not much of a spoiler that internment camps are the horrible end. It’s an interesting choice, to make the reader stay “here” with the white neighbors left behind for one abrupt, haunting chapter, rather than following the women and their families to the camps. I’m not sure if it was just because the author wanted the book to be short, but to me it forces to reader to grapple with white Americans’ role and complacency. In our current political climate, it’s a very timely book.