Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Henry Lee's parents insisted that he speak only English but also required that he wear a button bearing the words "I am Chinese." At first Henry (and I) found this puzzling, but in the days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, being mistaken for Japanese could have dire consequences. Henry was bullied and mocked at his all-Caucasian school in Seattle but eventually found solace in the company of a girl named Keiko from Japantown. Separated after Keiko's family was sent to an internment camp, Henry and Keiko endeavored to stay in touch, despite the fact that Henry's father was livid over this relationship. Japan was as much China's enemy as it was the U.S.'s during WWII. Now it's the 1980s. Henry's wife Ethel has succumbed to cancer, and, observing parallels between his relationship with his own father, Henry is trying to mend his relationship with his son. The narrative swings back and forth between the 1940s and the 1980s, and the 1940s sections are teeming with jazz music that provides a melancholy backdrop for the abandoned streets of Japantown. However, the prose is not special, and, if it weren't for the slices of history embedded in the story, it would be just another sappy novel with a predictable plot and ending.

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