I’ve been looking for a text to accompany some nonfiction pieces for my Sophomore English class. The non-ficiton pieces are about the Japanese-American internment camps during WWII and I’ve been looking for a novel to give the students a better idea of what happened during this program. I really liked The Invisible Thread , but sadly that’s out of print. Then I came across Dust of Eden. It was recommended to me by a colleague (God bless fellow English teachers). It’s interesting because it’s a novel in verse. So not only is this a topic that most students haven’t been taught about but it’s in a style most are unfamiliar with.
I find it shameful that we don’t talk about the internment of Japanese-Americans in school. Especially because in today’s tumultuous racially charge politics there’s already talk of registering Muslims and the like. If we don’t study the past how do we know what will happen in the future? It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned that we put Japanese-Americans into concentration camps. And I even lived on the West Coast!
One of the most poignant scenes from this book is when the son in the family is thinking about joining the military. Now, the family has lived in the camp for almost a year now. They’ve lost everything that took them generations to build, yet the U.S. military is willing to draft their young men for the war effort (talk about a good example of irony aka hypocrisy). The son wants to join to show the U.S. that he’s American and not Japanese. The father, however, doesn’t want him to join up. He makes the argument that if Japanese-American men are good enough to die for the U.S., they’re good enough to live freely like every other American. Point taken, sir.
The young woman who narrates the story also brings up a good point during the time when they are first ordered to leave their homes and jobs and be taken under military custody. She notices that there’s no Italian-American or German-American families and at first she’s confused and then she realizes with a deep bitterness that it’s just Japanese-Americans who are being targeted. Not only that, but Chinese and Korean Americans had to prove that they weren’t Japanese in order to avoid the internment camps.
The further the story progresses the more the stanzas are shortened and the choppier the lines becomes. It’s almost as if she’s talking into the readers ear and you can sense her anger and frustration. In the few moments of happiness and joy, the stanzas are longer and the lines are filled out. I thought this was a beautiful way to add a visual touch to the text.