February 26, 2013
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The internment of Japanese Americans in 'War Relocation Camps' (anyone down to 1/16 Japanese could be sent) by the United States government after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor is one of those things we sort of don't talk much about -- or write many books about. Sophie Littlefield has, though:
In the dark days of war, a mother makes the ultimate sacrifice Lucy Takeda is just fourteen years old, living in Los Angeles, when the bombs rain down on Pearl Harbor. Within weeks, she and her mother, Miyako, are ripped from their home, rounded up-along with thousands of other innocent Japanese-Americans-and taken to the Manzanar prison camp.
Buffeted by blistering heat and choking dust, Lucy and Miyako must endure the harsh living conditions of the camp. Corruption and abuse creep into every corner of Manzanar, eventually ensnaring beautiful, vulnerable Miyako. Ruined and unwilling to surrender her daughter to the same fate, Miyako soon breaks. Her final act of desperation will stay with Lucy forever...and spur her to sins of her own.
Sophie Littlefield's Garden of Stones is a novel I was looking forward to reading for a long time. While it is a good story, about a time and doing in American history that isn't talked about enough, it's not quite all that I was hoping. It starts out strong: a murder and an introduction to our characters Lucy Takeda and her daughter, Patty in 1978 and then goes back to 1941.
Pre-Pearl Harbor, Lucy is still experiencing anti-Japanese sentiment, but it's only troublesome, not yet life altering. That doesn't come until the order that sends them to Manzanar. This part of the novel, with the tension mounting, Lucy's living a life of privilege that is collapsing, and the introduction to Manzanar is the best of the book.
While the narration alternates between the 1940s and 1978 and the murder investigation, we see just how much everything changes for Lucy. From her family structure, the safety and security she's been used to, and then, really, her whole world.
While it's hard to know if everything the Takedas and other Japanese experience and need to do prior to and after being interred, it feels very real so kudos to Littlefield for that. Lucy is a very sympathetic character here and her age seems a great choice. She's mature enough to handle certain things, to be that almost-grown-up but to also have just enough naivete left that certain actions, thoughts, decisions of hers introduce elements of the story, as well.
Lucy and Miyako's relationship is complex and very well done. We see bits of it when things are normal, both Miyako's character and the mother/daughter relationship really becoming more a part of the story later.
Most of the focus of the book is on Lucy's life, circa World War II and then the murder investigation in 1978. I do wish there had been even a few more sentences on her life between the two time periods.
There were a couple of places where things from place one in the book didn't quite seem to line up with what happened in place two. Most of them were small, but even little things distract me from the story. (ex: Leaving Manzanar with no pictures. then in '78 having photographs from that period.)
It may have tried to do too much in too short of a novel, but it is a book that keeps you turning the pages, for sure. Aside from being a time period that's sorely under covered, there are interesting characters and separate stories, in different decades that weave together as the story goes on. Garden of Stones is worth reading.
This is where spoilers come in . . . Real, live, hello-this-is-a-large-section-of-the-ending spoilers:
I may have been wanting more 'historical' with my historical fiction in this case, but why would Mary ask if Lucy was thinking of getting married? Interracial marriage was still illegal? It seems like that's another thing she would have thrown it in Lucy's face then.
Then, this is what I could understand the characters and the book-people perhaps not seeing, not noticing because all sorts of weird things are known to happen. Then factor in the time, etc. But for it not to be mentioned at all for readers . . . A character that is supposed to be half Japanese is actually half Chinese. (There are a few references to the necessary character being Chinese, nothing about Japanese.) Japanese and Chinese people do not, generally, look alike. I can't speak for the character here -- we're not given much description of the character in question -- so maybe they look more Caucasian?
It still seems weird to have that (that they're half-Chinese, not half-Japanese which alters readers perception of quite a few things) be a 'twist' but not really effect anything else.
If you've already read this -- or if you do read it -- and have any thoughts on this (different/same/whatever) please tell me.
(I'll likely be less vague on Goodreads as it will hide the whole review.)
Yes, this is a lot of spacing, but we don't want the spoilers right upon the comment box, do we?
thank you to Harlequin and NetGalley for the digital galley