Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kiyo's Story

While reading my way through the recuperation from my foot surgery, I read a wonderful memoir, Kiyo's Story, by Kiyo Sato.  The subtitle is A Japanese-American Family's Quest for the American Dream.  Originally the title was Dandelion Through the Crack, suggesting how the spirit can bloom, despite unbelievable adversity.  This book won the 2008 William Saroyan Prize for Non Fiction and should be required reading in high school history classes to give young people an understanding of how political hysteria can sweep a nation into unthinkable behavior.


Kiyo was nineteen when she and her family, as well all of the Japanese -American communities on the West Coast, were sent to an interment camp; in the Satos' case, in Arizona.  Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was already a mindset in place: Japanese immigrants were not allowed to become citizens or to own land.  Their children, however, were citizens by reason of birth.  But following Pearl Harbor, and Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066anyone with 1/16 or more Japanese ancestry was suddenly declared a "non-alien". Curfews were established.  They were not allowed to travel more than a five mile radius from their homes.  Finally they were rounded up, and forced to abandon their homes, taking only whatever they could carry on the train to an interment camp.  The Sato family, like neighboring families, were fruit farmers; their fields would be untended.  Some farms were simply taken over by squatters.   


Kiyo Sato first acquaints the reader with her parents' lives before this tragedy.  Her father, Shinji, left Japan as a boy because of extreme poverty in his village.  He labored for farmers in California, returned to Japan to wed a pretty nurse, and saved enough money that, through the help of others who were citizens, he could obtain a parcel of land.  (At the time, Japanese immigrants were not allowed to own land.)


Kiyo's mother, Tomomi, worked side by side with Shinji in the fields, as did Kiyo and, later, her eight brothers and sisters. Slowly they brought the barren acreage to life until their produce was in demand and they had markets as far away as Canada.  The close-knit family lived frugally, with dignity, as did their neighbors, happy to be making their way in the Promised Land.


Skip ahead twenty years, and they are stripped of everything they worked for, on their way to a camp guarded with soldiers, living with minimal privacy in cramped, thinly partitioned rooms, eating meals in overflowing mess halls meant for 250 people.


This could have been a scaldingly bitter book.  Instead, it is a testimony to how the spirit can triumph.  Kiyo's Story charts the course of lives lived with integrity, no matter what the injustice: Some young men, including one of Kiyo's brothers, enlist in the military to show their loyalty.  The Satos and fellow inmates farm the land in camp, bringing flowers and crops out dessert soil.   Classes are started for the children.  Adults hold meetings to resolve festering problems.  


Their repeated reminder to each other is, "For the sake of the children . . . ." They bend gracefully to what cannot be helped and hope for the future, rather than breaking down. Shinji never loses faith that this will pass, they will return home, and he and Tomomi will one day be granted citizenship -- which does come to pass.  Tomomi is selfless in her devotion to family and friends.  Both show their trust in life by deeds rather than words.  


I cried several times while reading this book, not just because of the sadness they experienced, but in the deeper recognition of how they triumphed over hardships that could have destroyed them. Tomomi's gentle spirit shines as she takes unceasing care of her family.  Shinji, a farmer with the soul of a poet, writes haiku and nurtures beauty.  The devotion and wisdom of both permeate every thing they do.  This is a book to be read more than once -- one that shows the true meaning of abundance and grace.


Kiyo's Story can be purchased here, and here, and here.  





22 comments:

Rosi said...

Nice review about a book by a lovely woman. It's on my list. I'll move it up now.

Michelle Fayard said...

I've just made a note to share this book with my mom, who I know will love it. I had read other books about this topic while writing my Civil War novel to get a feel for how the unscientific hatred of a group of people has manifested itself through the ages. I wish I had read this book at that time but will certainly do so now. Thanks, Mitty!

Peaches Ledwidge said...

Thanks for sharing the review.

Lydia K said...

Wow, this sounds wonderful, tears and all.
:)

David Powers King said...

I was moved halfway through your review of this. What an excellent read. Thanks for bringing it up.

Ann Best said...

A while back I read a beautifully written book on this subject, a true-life story. This one also sounds wonderful. Thanks for reviewing it so I could learn about it--and for stopping by my blog today, which got me here!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Thanks all of you. I'm glad the book and it's subject matter appeal to you. It's such a worthwhile read; just brings one back to what is most valuable and enduring in the human spirit, despite so much heartache that goes on in the world.

Jayne said...

This sounds a deeply moving book, and I especially like how you say it's not just about the sadness but the deeper recognition of how they triumph over hardships. I'll look out for this one, thank you.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I alwawys enjoy your book reviews, Elizabeth. Sounds like a great book.

Elisabeth said...

Hi Mrs seraphina, another Elizabeth I see, though I spell my name with an 's'.

I'm here via your comment to Jim. This is a terrific review. I know something of the treatment of so-called enemy aliens.

We did a similar thing in Australia to German people during WW2, regardless of how long they had lived here.

It's a crazy madness takes over during times of war. And it's happening today to some extent between so-called christians and muslims.

It's scary, this wish to polarise into good and bad when life is never as simple as that.

I'm pleased to meet you.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Hi, Rachna, i was so moved my it. Normally I'm not a big memoir reader, but this chained my mind.K

Hi, Elizabeth, nice to meet you. I have another friend in Australia who is an expert on kangaroos and helped me with a children's story about kangaroos. As for the treatment of German-descent Australians, the same thing happened to quite a few Italian-Americansq on the East Coast here in the States. Something comes over people. It's terrible.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Oh, dear, I meant to spell that with an s. Years of habit! :-)

David Powers King said...

I gave you a shout-out on my blog today.

Just so you know. :)

Donna K. Weaver said...

Wandered over from David's blog. *waves*

Hope your foot's doing well.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Thanks, Donna. And thanks for following me. I took a peek at your blog, too, after seeing his post. Foot is doing fine. The pin comes out tomorrow, and then soon I'll be up and running around again. I am so ready!

Rebecca Bany said...

Great review. Sounds amazing.
www.rebeccabany.com

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Hi, Rebecca, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for following me. I visited your blog, and I see you're published through Create Space. That's who I went through for my book.

Kelley said...

Hi Elizabeth!

Wonderful review. I'm moving the book over to my TBR list as we speak :)

Love the blog too. I can't wait to keep following you!

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Nice to meet you, Kelley. You have a nice blog yourself. I'll be reading more of your posts.

Stacy Henrie said...

What a moving story - sounds like a great read.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Stacy, it is. Well worth getting.

J.L. Campbell said...

I'm usually not a big fan of memoirs, but this one sounds like a good and relevant read. Hard to believe that stuff like that happened in America, though I do know it did.