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Flowers from Mariko, written by Rick Noguchi and Deneen Jenks, and illustrated by Michelle Reiko Kumata, is the story of one Japanese American family’s experiences in camp.
What I liked:
• I never know when I’ll come across a bit of my childhood while reading Nikkei literature. In this case, 春が来た was a pleasant surprise. I wonder if Noguchi knows this song from his own childhood, or if it popped up in his research – or maybe the illustrator, Kumata, knew of it? There is no information in the book (I read the paperback edition) about how the story was created, though two people are acknowledged on the back of the title page for their assistance with “historical accuracy.”
• Kumata’s illustrations are a perfect fit for this story. The simple lines and quiet colors feel very Japanese (or maybe Nikkei or even 日系アメリカ人 -esque is a better, more specific word – I actually think the aesthetic choices would be quite different if a 日本人 artist illustrated this story for a 日本人 audience), and also provide an appropriate visual representation of the sobering history being recounted.
• Several characters are drawn with thick, curly hair, a characteristic I rarely see even in Nikkei depictions of Japanese people. I’m not sure if Kumata intended to depict naturally curly-haired Japanese people, or if she is merely referencing hairstyles from that period. At any rate, as someone from a Japanese family with many curly/wavy-haired people, I appreciate these images!
What I learned:
• Did I know some Nikkei ended up in trailer homes after leaving the camps? I may have read this somewhere and then forgotten…my mind feels like a sieve lately. Come to think of it, my grandfather bought his Bay Area house in the 1960s, so where was he living right after he left Topaz?
• Along the same lines, I don’t recall previously knowing that some Nikkei chose to stay in the camps until they were forced out. I can see why this might not be a frequently discussed topic in our community…time to do some reading. Also, I think this particular aspect of our history could be told very effectively through film, especially if bilingual descendants of formerly incarcerated JAs partnered with someone like Miyazaki.
Questions I had:
• The author note at the end of the book uses a somewhat confusing mix of terminology. What is Noguchi’s preferred terminology when discussing the camps?
• Does Noguchi and/or Kumata have a personal connection to the camps? What motivated each of them to work on this project?
• I’m curious about Jenks’s role in the creation of this book. She appears to have an academic background in creative writing, so I imagine she assisted Noguchi with the scripting of the text. In particular, I wonder if Noguchi, her spouse, insisted her name be on the cover as a co-author, or if Jenks herself requested it. I raise this point because I’ve been considering the extent to which white people curate JA history, whether in the form of writing articles based on their interviews with Nikkei subjects in JA/Nikkei publications, or having their name listed as co-authors on works of Nikkei literature, or styling themselves as subject matter experts when they review or blurb work by Nikkei writers, and I’m concerned about who will shape the documentation of our stories moving forward.
• It looks like Noguchi has also published a book of poetry – I’m looking forward to reading it, whenever I manage to get a copy.