July 17, 2006

Summer Reading Update

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:02 pm by mrsmauck

I’ve been slacking on my little “book reports” on here. I’ve finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Farewell to Manzanar since F451 (see my thoughts on it here and here.). Some thoughts on these two female coming-of-age stories where place figures very prominently:

Francie Nolan’s place in history is fairly insignificant: yes, WWI broke out during her lifetime, but it had very little bearing on her as a person. The primary forces in her childhood were her family, their poverty, and of course, Brooklyn, a place that is somehow blissful and mean; magical and coldly real, at the same time. Her imagination was vivid, and Francie’s character–especially the dichotomy between dreamer and down-to-earth girl–were what made the book so pleasurable to read. However, the novel’s length and decidedly feminine perspective make this an unlikely choice for required reading in a high school English course. It’s definitely going on my Recommendations bulletin board, though.

Farewell to Manzanar, however, is a quick read about an important time in history, where the character really only serves as a vehicle by which to deliver a personalized view on the Japanese internment during WWII. Jeanne Wakatsuki doesn’t really come alive as a character until after the internment, when she tries to gain acceptance in post-war California. One idea from this last third of the novel lingers with me: People can be conditioned to believe they are undeserving of respect and civility. This is such a heartbreaking reality, and the parallels between Manzanar and Guantanmo Bay, Pearl Harbor and 9/11, are interesting, and certainly worth discussion. I just wish that the Wakatsuki family was as three-dimensional and endearing as the Nolan family in Brooklyn. Oh, and one more heartbreaking reality: the Wakatsuki father’s answer to an American soldier’s interrogation as to his loyalty. When asked who he wanted to win the war, he replied, “When your mother and father are fighting, you don’t want one or the other to win, you just want them to stop fighting.” Online resources are abundant on this topic: I especially like this one, which is totally devoted to comparing Pearl Harbor to 9/11, and America’s treatment of Japanese-Americans and Middle Eastern-Americans. On the Japanese American National Museum’s site, students could read letters internees wrote to a California librarian. Also, the Smithsonian American History Museum did an exhibit over the internment, and it has a great website. Hmm…but am I getting too far over into U.S. History and Civics’ territory? That would be an issue to discuss with those teachers, and perhaps we could even plan a cross-curricular unit on it. If only I had a more engaging novel to center this on…

Thoughts on either of these works? Is there another, more engaging novel written about the Japanese internement of WWII?


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