Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dust of Eden

I like novels; I like poetry.  I'm not the biggest fan of novels in verse.  

"Well, then, Sarah- why would you REQUEST a novel in verse? Not even an e-galley, but went out of your way to contact the publisher to ask for a hard copy?"

Because...this one is about a part of US History that's interested me ever since I first learned about it.

Mariko Nagai's Dust of Eden is about thirteen-year-old Mina Masakao Tagawa.  In December of 1941 she and her Japanese-American family are forced to leave their home in Seattle to live in an internment camp in Idaho for the next three years.  Through this time, Mina writes to her best friend Jamie, connects with her grandfather, and watches a struggle with her brother.

I don't know if it's because I have to concentrate harder or what...I tend to only read them when it's required.  In this case, it was worth it to slow down.  It made the reading that much more powerful.  In slowing down, I was able to make connections where I may not have before. 

I'm sure the dust aspect had something to do with it, but I kept getting thrown back into The Grapes of Wrath- which of course meant I was looking for parallels and symbolism at every line.  I found it ;-)   For example, her grandfather trying so hard to grow his roses- searching for beauty in the dust.  There's also a moment for the brother, overseas in the military, that makes the reader pause and think.

As a historical fiction, Nagai brings in true events.  There's a significant moment where a man gets shot by guards at the camp for trying to escape- the first victim, Ichiro Shimoda.  I'm sure there are other things, but that one stood out most.

It was also interesting to note the situation the men in the internment camps were put in- a conflicting position on whether to join the military for their country, but their country that put them in these camps.  

A few months ago I read The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee.  One of the things I found most interesting was the evolution of the fortune cookie, especially since they had been invented by the Japanese.  What she found was that when the Japanese were moved to the camps, the Chinese "took over" and that is when the Chinese writing showed up on the slips of paper.  Little things like that make you want to learn more about this part of our history- uncomfortable as it may be.

A powerful book for middle-grades.  It's a great introduction to the subject, and could start a lot of good conversations.

Dust of Eden is published by Albert Whitman & Company.  Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 03.01.2014

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