Eyes Behind Belligerence by K.P. Kollenborn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Eyes Behind Belligerence by K.P. Kollenborn is a fictional and lengthy novel of what life was like being Japanese in America just prior to and after the Bombing of Pearl Harbor during WWII. Although the author makes it clear this is a work of fiction many of the facts and events are historically accurate.
The book starts off with a list of "Characters & Terminologies" that include pronunciations which I really found helpful with understand the book and then the story is broken down into five parts. The main characters are Jim/Jimmu Yoshimura and Russell/Goro Hamaguchi. These two unlikely friends live with their families on Brainbridge Island in a predominantly Japanese area where life was 'normal' with a heritage where family name and honor was important. Life was like any where else, they worked, went to school, had friends.
Once Pearl Harbor was attached the Japanese community worried about being arrested and sent to Montana for being Japanese Spies. The Yoshimura and Hamaguchi children thought they had nothing to worry about since they were American Citizens but they worried for their parents since they were not American Citizens. Russell found he was being discriminated against despite this when some of his acquaintances at school told him not to eat lunch or hang around with them. His parents, as all the Japanese community found they were all being discriminated against when it came to employment and their bank accounts were frozen. Things even got violent such as when Jim was at this father's store helping him and someone threw a brick through the front window yelling for them to go back to Japan, they are not wanted here.
Then the day came where the families were rounded up and put into "Relocation Camps". The children had their citizenship revoked and were shipped there along with the parents to Manzanar. This was told to be for their own protection but the truth of the matter is they were nothing more than detention camps with lookout towers, barbed wire fences and with a whole new set of problems and dangers. The families had to battle hatred, disease, cramped quarters, poor health care facilities, gangs, and the elements. They watched their family being torn apart and spread all over the country.
Finally the day came when the war ended and they left the camp to return to Brainbridge Island. Some went back, others chose not to. The struggle continued with the life path each followed and where it brought them. Each needing to choose what was important to them and if they can do something with their lives to better the situation if not for themselves then for the next generation.
I thought the novel was a real eye opener. It really captured what everyday life would be like, how they would talk, grow with not only age but maturity and wisdom. It showed real feelings in the different relationships and the values of the family and friends. It showed the pain, the weakness, the strengths and the breakdown of decency. Prejudices and not only by those toward the Japanese and others but even by the Japanese toward others.
If you want to read a believable book about what life was like for the Japanese during WWII then look no further, you found it. I think Jim wrote it best. "Exiled, shamed and damned like bastards, we stare through these barbed wire fences, our eyes. our eyes betrayed by this world; our eyes behind belligerence."
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