Letters to Memory

Karen Tei Yamashita. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-56689-487-6
Novelist Yamashita (I Hotel) explores her family’s experience in a Japanese-American internment camp during WWII using stories, letters, photos, artwork, and other records from her family archive. In five thematically linked sections on poverty, modernity, love, death, and laughter, Yamashita sketches the humiliation, absurdity, and cruelty collectively suffered by her extended family, with special focus on her grandmother Tomi; mother, Asako; and father, John. In one particularly haunting scene she imagines what it was like for her family to frantically pack their house in one day before leaving for the relocation camp. Yamashita positions these stories within larger questions—what is the meaning of evil, justice, war, and forgiveness?—and considers the answers suggested in classics including the Iliad, the Mahabharata, the jataka tales, and King Lear. The immediacy and poignancy of the struggles of Yamashita’s family members are deflated by interposed epistolary conversations with five mythic authors and pseudonymous scholars, who never take shape with the richness, complexity, urgency, or character of Yamashita’s family and friends. Yamashita’s hopscotch approach makes the deeper claim that there is no explanation and no possible reparation for events like slavery, internment, or the bombing of Hiroshima—only the disorienting reality they produce and the legacy of pain, distrust, and shame they leave behind. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/24/2017
Release date: 09/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 160 pages - 978-1-56689-498-2
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