Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Diamond in the Desert by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Twelve-year-old Tetsu's life in California is uprooted when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and he is forced to relocate to Gila River camp in Arizona. His father is sent to North Dakota because the government suspects him of being a spy. Tetsu's father is incarcerated with no due process for years while Tetsu, his mom, and young sister, Kimi, go to the internment camp. Tetsu was a ball player and he meets others players at the camp. When a baseball team is formed, he finds some happiness until a disaster befalls his sister. I love the story of a Japanese man that built a baseball field in an internment camp during World War II and while it is not the focal point it is worked into the storyline. It's such a wonderful example of the human spirit rising above injustices and bad circumstances to bring hope to others. While the details and plot are well done, the characters are not particularly memorable; however, this is a story worth telling and noting.

The plot is solid and looks into the unique friendships formed under harsh conditions. Tetsu is at first bullied by a boy who later makes peace with him when he saves him from drowning. Another boy, Horse, is a large boy that never talks. He has been traumatized by an event and Tetsu is determined to find out why he won't speak. Horse is loyal and kind, connecting with Tetsu's younger sister who seems to intuitively understand his pain. The historical details are interesting and the camp loosely run. The guards are Japanese and sympathetic toward the inmates, turning a blind eye as kids repeatedly sneak out of the fenced-in camp. Violent dust storms seep into one room homes and desert animals become pets to lonely children. Some detainees built ponds by their homes and put fish in them. The bathrooms are communal and life is difficult with long slow days. Building a baseball stadium gave purpose to many of the people's lives and relieved their boredom by providing entertainment.

The characters fell short for me with the exception of Kimi. I liked her spunk and wisdom presented in the simplicity of a child. I really wanted more of the culture represented in the book. It doesn't capture the Japanese customs much and complexity of the culture. The Japanese forced into the camps were first and second generation Japanese, so I would have expected more customs and language prevalent at the camp. When Tetsu built the pond, I was expecting some elaboration on the importance of the garden in architecture and religion. The baseball was somewhat glossed over and could have revealed the emotional relief and joy brought to the internment camp. The chapters are extremely short and while this makes it accessible to the reluctant reader, it makes for less depth and texture.

Like I mentioned before, most of the Japanese put in internment camps were American citizens and second-generation. In 1980, the Japanese American Citizens League put pressure on the government to redress the wrongs done to them during this period. The result was Reagan signing the "Civil Liberties Act" in 1988 that apologized on the behalf of the U.S. government for the wrongful internment and awarded $20,000 dollars to camp survivors. While the past cannot be undone at least this is a move in the right direction toward healing a wrong.

3 Smileys

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