Monday, April 13, 2015

Dust of Eden

Dust of Eden, a novel by Mariko Nagai
Book review

This past weekend I read a small novel in verse by Mariko Nagai called Dust of Eden about the forced evacuation of people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast to internee camps situated within the formidable interior—mostly land unsuitable for much else. While reading I was struck by how similar the story read next to the historical novel I wrote, Beyond Paradise, about a young girl and her family and their experiences within internee camps in the Philippines.

War brings about strange, uncontrollable circumstances.

In both instances these were civilian camps, not military or POW. In most cases the people were rounded up and ordered to live within confined spaces for an undetermined amount of time. So there was very little information and a lot of speculation about what the future might hold. The internees were told they could go back as soon as . . . but no one really believed it. Because no one knew what the outcome of the war might bring. The civilians were treated as the enemy.

Another thing the two stories had in common was lines. People lined up for everything until they felt like they had to line up for the sun to shine and for a new day to begin. In all my research for Beyond Paradise I was struck by how many primary interviews talked about queues. It was tiring, seemingly endless, and part of the de-humanizing process. You could never relax or feel at home because sooner or later you’d have to go stand in line for some basic human need whether it was food, the showers, or to see the CO about something. The dust and dirt and shortages were just a part of everyday life.

Of course the two stories differed in that the Nissan internees felt betrayed by their own government and in my book the civilians were expatriates living abroad who were rounded up by an occupier. Both felt equally alone and forgotten during the four long years of war. Entire families and lives were uprooted and eventually changed forever.

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