22 June 2007

8. Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki

This book was absolute crap. Total.

For some inexplicable reason this book is on the reading list for the 11th grade curriculum. It's a great book for 8th grade and would fit perfectly in that curriculum, especially in a Humanities class.

Set in California just as WW2 is starting for America, FtM is a memoir of Wakatsuki's experience in the largest of the American concentration camps. Her father is a fisherman who is accused of supplying oil to Japanese submarines - totally false charges. The family, along with thousands of other people of Japanese descent are ordered to be evacuated from the West Coast.

This book had the opportunity to be a rivetting memoir of a harrowing time for so many people. In fact, the conditions were so bad at one point that there were food riots at Manzanar. Wakatsuki gives this riot about three paragraphs, one of the them setting the context for the riot and the other two describing what went down.

Wakatsuki misses every chance she has to make us sympathetic to her plight, and makes Manazanar sound like sleepaway camp - and I'm not even exagerrating: at one point she complains that she hates her piano lessons, at another tells us she is so mad at her dad she is going to break her baton in half (her one, favorite hobby is baton twirling), and that she hates ballet classes because the teacher is too fat and awkward.

And she is overly fond of the phrase, "it's as if" which removes the meaning/gravity/merit of whatever she is describing that much further.

You could read it in less than two hours, but shouldn't.

It's especially disappointing that this book is in the 11th grade crriculum because putting it next to Huck Finn, Othello, or Salesman makes it look even weaker, yet I have to get up there and pretend it's worthy of deconstruction.

I did do a lot of context stuff with this book and we did discuss Executive Order 9066 (FDR), the apology (Reagan) and the reparations (Bush I). That helped a lot and gave the book some meaning.

Still, the whole experience of "teaching" this book left a bad taste in my brain.

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