Cafe Parlez for June

This month’s book was “When the Emperor was Divine”, by Julie Otsuka. The crowd (and thunder storm) is gathering. Tonight’s menu is: rice balls, strawberry Pocky, chocolate covered strawberries, jelly munchkins, rice crackers, lemonade, and coca-cola. The rice balls are yummy!

Discussion starts: Some people are surprised about how little they knew about the incarceration of the Japanese-American people during WWII. M is showing us illustrations about the camps. She is also showing us “Dear Miss Breed” about a San Diego librarian who supported the children in the camps with letters and sending packages. MC is showing us “Baseball Saved Us”, a great children’s book about conditions at the camps; and “So Far from the Sea”, about a family that goes back to Manzanar, where the father was incarcerated.

M is asking about the fact that the characters seemed to have no faces, as well as having no names. She is asking what information that we got about the people from the incidents in the book. The mother is middle-aged, doesn’t always follow the rules, attractive, strong. As the time went on, she became shyer, more introverted. Each character had something from their old life that they held onto.

Water: M is saying that water is prominent. The first thing the mother did when they got back home was turn on the faucet. The son is always thirsty. Someone else says that trees, flowers, and growing things are also prominent, probably because they are in the desert.

The mother blamed herself for the father getting arrested, as did the son.

The daughter: vain, pretty, athletic, artistic.

L is bringing up the other side. At the time, the Japanese were seen as the enemy; they had killed Americans, tortured their prisoners. It all comes down to fear. The government reacted out of fear. Someone has brought up the racial profiling aspect, especially after 9/11.

How much of this was human nature? Should we be above profiling? L thinks this is human insinct, “fight or flight”. Is it survival instinct? Are we taught to be racist?

The boy missed his father very much, and he doesn’t really get his father back. That was the worse thing that happened to that family. Everyone in the family lost something, but the father lost the most. The mother was a fighter. She didn’t sink down into oblivion. Some didn’t like the part where the mother had to kill the dog, which showed the incredible strength of the mother.

Names: most of the characters were named, but none of the family was (not even the pets). M is reminded of William Carlos Williams’ poetry, as his use of simplicity and color is similar to the author’s. The style of writing was simple, poetic, journalistic. Not emotional. The author gives you the picture, and lets you make up your own mind about it. Rather like a bonsai.

When the family looked at themselves, they saw the enemy, too. How can they think good of themselves, when everyone around them is calling them names? They were Americans!

The Emperor: is it the Japanese emperor, or the dad? The narrator changes and very subtly. The boy’s chapter has the same title as the book. When they pick up the father at the train station, she asks, “Did you?”, and the father answers, “Yes, every night.” Many think it’s about thinking of the family, but L thinks it may be praying to the emperor.

Where did the turtle go? He’s in a box, as are they.

Everything Japanese had to be washed from their lives, their bonsai, kimono. They tried to fit in at school. Now Japanese things are in vogue.

Last chapter: The Confession. G thought it was the most powerful section in the book. What did the father go through to say all these things? His experience must have broken him to make him say these things.

Japanese treatment in America/Jews’ treatment in Germany in the 1940’s: the motivation was not on the same level, neither was the treatment. Hitler came along at the right time and said the right things.

Someone makes the point that you can’t tell who’s who now, not like in the 1940’s when the Japanese stood out. She says that you should talk to someone in that generation. People haven’t changed since then, they still jump to conclusions about a people. Some of us think things have changed since the ’40’s and ’60’s. There is now a BIG discussion of tolerance or acceptance and how we think we are so great and want to change everything in the world.

Is it Pollyanna to want everyone to react with acceptance and tolerance? Life is very global these days. Business does it, approach other cultures with sensitivity and acceptance. How can we make it a perfect world?

Discussion’s winding down! See you on July 26 for the summer party for “Bridget Jones’s Diary”.


1 Comment

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One response to “Cafe Parlez for June

  1. cheryl kidney

    I just read Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas. It is also about the Japanese internment camps. It was a very good story~!

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