Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Place to Belong.

Kadohata, Cynthia. A Place to Belong.
May 14th 2019 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
E ARC from Edleweiss Plus

Hanako's family spent WWII in an internment camp, lost their home family business, and cat, and decided after the war to return to the father's family in Japan, on a farm near Hiroshima. The father hasn't returned to Japan for almost 20 years, but his parents are thrilled to see everyone. They are tenant farmers, so are barely scratching out an existence in a post war environment where food is scarce. Hanako and her brother arrive without even their meager luggage, since it goes missing after they get off the ship from America. Their father manages to get a job translating for American troops, who often pay him in cigarettes and bacon grease, which can be traded for rice. The mother helps around the house and occasionally in the fields, where the grandparents work long, grueling hours planting, weeding, and removing bugs from crops. Hanako goes to a local school, but her Japanese is not very good and her long hair and clothing immediately brand her as an outsider. The family subsists on carrots and other plants, grasshopper, and tiny amounts of rice, some of which they get for trading the American butter and sugar the children are allotted. Hanako feels very sorry for a local boy who is barely clothed and missing an ear. His parents were killed in the atomic bomb, and he is caring for his sister, but he also badgers Hanako for food and even breaks into the house and steals rice the family needs. He certainly has it much worse than Hanako's brother, who whines for peanut butter and "good food", seemingly oblivious to the situation in which the family has found itself. Eventually, the parents realize that things are much worse in Japan. They want to go back to America but can't, and work with a lawyer who is trying to put together a class action suit to repatriate them. This falls through, so the hard decision is made to send the children back to live with an aunt until the parents can return.
Strengths: Years ago, I went through a Pearl Buck reading phase, so the crushing rural poverty in Japan was very familiar. The post war landscape, however, was not, and I found this to be fascinating. It makes sense that a fairly large number of Japanese Americans family left the US, but I had never read about it. The details of the family's history, the grandparents' existence, and Hanako's feelings of not fitting in anywhere are all vivid and well done.
Weaknesses: This is very long, and repeats itself a lot. There are a few pictures, but not enough to justify the length. A picky distinction, I know, but this would have been a lot sharper with 100 fewer pages.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, as this covers a very unusual bit of history I knew nothing about. Our 8th grade studies WWII, so interested students might want to take a look at this.

Ms. Yingling

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