When the story opens, fierce economic war has broken out between the U.S. and Japan. Disease and racist violence have decimated Japanese-American numbers. David Takeda, a Sansei (third generation Japanese-American) in his late 40s from the Venice Beach area, has been reduced to earning his living by delivering eulogies for deceased relations and friends. His brother Johnny is beaten to death before they get to the internment camp at Manzanar, in the desert of eastern California, but sister Kate and her children make it to camp. The bulk of the book recreates camp life and the characters' hopes for escape. Though there is naturally much Japanese-American content (even a 6-page glossary of Japanese and slang terms in the back), this is a highly multicultural novel. David's best friends are a black man and a Hispanic lesbian; also, Miyake significantly plays up the similarities in physiognomy, behavior, and values between Japanese and Southwest Native Americans. In camp one gets to know an alleged half Chinese, half Korean character -- a gay man named Bradley Kuwata, who serves as both a clown and an eventual saviour. The villains of the story -- particularly a Nurse Ratched-like camp director and a recurring soldier-guard figure -- are a little too unidimensional and caricatured (but this IS a satire), however the "good guys" are complex, ambivalent, and given to fatal changes of mind ... and their body count jarringly high. Obviously, anyone with a Japanese background will easily slip into the milieu of this story, but I think even gaijin may find it worthwhile, for its grittiness, detail, and odd shifts of style and perspective.
This report prepared by David Loftus