Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Review of #1 Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida

Name of Book: Journey to Topaz

Author: Yoshiko Uchida

ISBN: 0-916870-85-5

Publisher: Creative Arts Book Company

Part of a Series: Journey Home sequel

Type of book: WW2, young adult, Topaz camp, Japanese-Americans, Issei, Nisei, camp conditions, desert, 1941-1942 or 1943?

Year it was published: 1971


Like any eleven-year-old, Yuki Sakane is looking forward to christmas when her peaceful world is suddenly shattered by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Father is taken by the FBI, and she, her mother and older brother, Ken, are uprooted from their home and shipped with thousands of West Coast Japanese Americans to the horse stalls of Tanforan Racetrack and then to the bleak desert concentration camp called Topaz.

There Yuki and her new friends, Emi and her grandparents, face terrifying dust storms, new hardships and finally a terrible tragedy that rocks the entire camp. Disillusioned, Ken must make a heart-wrenching decision, and Yuki faces another painful separation from her best friend as well as her brother.


I don't think the author gives a heavy focus to the characters in this book. While they are there, they don't strike me as three dimensional with bad and good points but can be best described as good. The evil wasn't given a lot of attention to. Mostly the author focuses on Kenichi, Yuki's older brother and whatever changes Yuki is going through aren't given a lot of thought.


Despite the evil there is always good.


The story is from third person point of view. I'm not sure if its mostly from Yuki's eyes or if the author rotates from Yuki to Ken's points of views. It starts out on December 7th, 1941 and then stops around 1943 maybe, when Ken leaves to fight for freedom. I sensed a lot of pain written in the novel, and there also seemed to be a box of Pandora. (The author tries to open up about her family's experiences, but I don't think she succeeds in my opinion.) I wonder if she might be one of the first to write and talk about the Internment camps. Today more public is aware about them and its well known, while in '70s, I have doubts that it might have been known or talked about.

Author Information:
(from goodreads.com)

Yoshiko Uchida
Author profile

October 24, 1921 in Alameda, Cal., The United States

June 21, 1992


Literature & Fiction, Short Stories, Children's Books

About this author

Yoshiko, born on November 24, 1921, was the second daughter of Japanese immigrant parents Takashi and Iku. Her father worked as a businessman for Mitsui and Company in San Francisco, and Iku wrote poetry, passing along her love of literature to her girls. Though the Great Depression raged, the Uchida family enjoyed comforts because of Takashi's well-paying job and their own frugality. Yoshiko loved to write, and her stories played out on pieces of brown wrapping paper. She also kept a journal to record her thoughts and events.

Enveloped in love and tradition at home, Yoshiko weathered the prejudice she sometimes faced. Many white students at University High School in Oakland didn't invite her to their parties and wouldn't socialize with her, deeming her a foreigner. Even while attending the University of California at Berkley, Yoshiko often faced the same dilemma of being ostracized. She found friendships with other Japanese American students and was preparing to graduate when Pearl Harbor was bombed, changing her life.

The United States government rounded up 120,000 people of Japanese descent and put them into camps. The Uchida family first resided in a horse stall at a racetrack in California, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. Though difficult to endure, the next move was worse. Almost 8,000 Japanese were sent to a relocation concentration camp called Topaz in the Utah desert. The detainees suffered from violent dust storms, scorpions, snakes, and exceedingly poor living conditions. Yoshiko taught second grade children there until she received a fellowship from Smith College to earn a master's degree in education.

Yoshiko and her sister both left the camp in May of 1943, with their parents gaining release later that year. Teaching for several years in a Quaker school outside of Philadelphia, Yoshiko decided to quit teaching and find work that allowed more time for writing. She moved to New York City and began as a secretary, penning stories in the evenings. Asked to contribute to a book about Japanese folk tales, Yoshiko discovered that though the book didn't come to be, with time she could create a full collection of folk tales. Writing a few pieces for adults, Yoshiko realized she was better suited for children's books.

A Ford Foundation fellowship sent her to Japan to research the culture and their stories. Spending two years, Yoshiko found her time to be healing as she learned about her own ancestry. The pain of the concentration camps lessened, and she began writing about the experiences in fictional books such as Journey to Topaz and Journey Home. Her career as an author soared as people regarded her as a pioneer in Japanese American children's literature. The author of almost forty works, including Japanese folk tales and stories of Japanese American children making their way in the world, Yoshiko traveled extensively, lectured, and wrote. After suffering from a stroke, Yoshiko passed away on June 25, 1992, in Berkeley, California.


First of all this is a library copy of the book rather than something I own. While I liked reading it and found it interesting, my only problem with it is that I barely saw any family interactions prior to Pearl Harbor and during the camp days. The characters are more of told rather than see variety. Instead of going through a progression, the reader immediately has to deal with the changes in characters without comparing them previously to pre-Pearl Harbor. What I do admire about her writing is that she gives humanity and warmth to the Japanese in Internment Camps, and makes sure that the readers don't end up hating the Americans by portraying a lot of positive characters of American descent (Mrs. Jamieson, Mimi and her mother, the supposed contacts of Yuki's father.) The story itself isn't over and its best to get Journey Home if you want to know whether or not Ken will survive as well as other details.

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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