California Generation (book)
|Original Publisher||J. B. Lippincott Company|
|Original Publication Date||1970|
Popular 1970 novel by Jacqueline Briskin that follows a group of students from the class of 1960 at fictitious California High—one of them a Sansei born in Topaz—through the touchstone events of the turbulent decade. Though a first novel, California Generation was widely promoted and launched Briskin's career as a best-selling novelist.
Briskin (1927– ), born in London but raised in Southern California, graduated from Beverly Hills High and married soon after, raising three children. In 1963, she took an evening writing class at UCLA taught by Robert Kirsch that led to short story publications and a mid-life writing career. California Generation was written over the course of three years and focused on characters only slightly older than her own children. She told Publishers' Weekly, "I did a lot of my research at Cal, spending weekends in Berkeley as a dorm mate of the girl who is about to become my daughter-in-law. The kids accepted me and leveled with me." Her writing teacher, Kirsch, recognized it as a potential best-seller and connected her to his editor at Bantam, which bought the paperback rights with Lippincott getting hardcover rights. Through her husband's family connections, the manuscript also made the rounds in Hollywood, with Columbia buying movie rights prior to publication for a six figure advance, though the movie was never made. Briskin went to publish eleven more novels, many of which became bestsellers.
California Generation begins in 1960 with a group of students completing their senior year in high school and follows these characters over the course of the next eight years through the civil rights movement, Vietnam War, changing mores about sex, drugs, and gender roles, and other generational milestones. One of the nine core characters is Ken Igawa, a Sansei born in a "concentration camp" in Utah whose anger over his family's confinement and subsequent poverty colors his relationships with the others. Ken's father had been a successful strawberry farmer in West Los Angeles before the war and was forced to sell his land for "five cents on the dollar, which... was worse that theft for it added humiliation." That land became part of "Parkdale," an exclusive subdivision, after the war. A talented artist but indifferent student, he somehow gets an art scholarship to Berkeley and finds his calling as an experimental film maker. His girlfriend and eventual wife, Leigh Sutherland, is the daughter of a wealthy lawyer whose liberal politics are tested by the interracial relationship.
The novel received mixed—and sometimes indifferent—reviews; "With all this success and money coming her way, Mrs. Briskin hardly needs good reviews, nor is she likely to get them," wrote Publishers' Weekly, a sentiment echoed by Carmen P. Collier in Best Sellers. Collier does conclude that the book "will find its audience among those who continue to substantiate the premises of magazines, newspapers, and films which flourish on the sensational." While F. J. Brown of Books and Bookman writes that Briskin "is wonderfully truthful in her portrayal of a generation destroying itself," Publishers' Weekly writes that "'California Generation' grinds on endlessly.... most of the big events of the 1960's are reflected, but in such a shallow, cardboard fashion that the reader can hardly care less. Reading this is, at times, like trying to wade through glue."
In the summer of 1970. Lippincott placed ads for the book in Japanese American vernacular newspapers, touting the interracial romance angle and claiming it to be "The first major novel with a Japanese American hero." Despite this, Sansei activist and columnist Ron Wakabayashi wrote, "I didn't like the book. Probably because Ken Igawa made me feel inadequate, and his Japanese American girl friend made me take a hard look at the Japanese American girls around here.... Maybe we think that we need a white girl to get our manhood back because we can't really get it on with a Sister." In the Pacific Citizen, Allan Beekman described the characters as "a sorry lot" and expressed offense at the sex scenes, writing "Time may bring her [Briskin] more mature vision, relief from her fixation on sex, and respect for the English language. If that happy day comes to pass, she may bring forth a novel of literary merit."
Beekman, Allan. "Popular Novel Has Nikkei Character." Pacific Citizen, Sept. 25, 1970, p. 5.
Brown, F. J. "Ploughing the Ocean." Books and Bookmen 16.2 (Nov. 1970): 24–26.
Collier, Carmen P. Best Sellers, July 1, 1970, pp. 126–27.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1970, p. 404.
Publishers' Weekly, April 13, 1970, pp. 82–83.
- Paul Nathan, "Rights and Permissions," Publishers' Weekly Feb. 9, 1970, 66; Gioia Dillberto, "Late Bloomer She May Be, but Author Jacqueline Briskin Clearly Has Played Her Cards Right, People, Dec. 9, 1985, accessed online on March 23, 2013 at http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20092410,00.html.
- Jacqueline Briskin, California Generation (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970), 228.
- Publishers' Weekly, April 13, 1970, 82–83; Carmen P. Collier, Best Sellers, July 1, 1970, 126–27; F. J. Brown, "Ploughing the Ocean," Books and Bookmen 16.2 (Nov. 1970), 24.
- See for instance, the Pacific Citizen, June 26, 1970, p. 5 and July 3 and 10, 1970, p. 3.
- Ron Wakabayashi, "Checkmate," Pacific Citizen, June 26, 1970, p. 5.
- Allen Beekman, "Popular Novel Has Nikkei Character," Pacific Citizen, Sept. 25, 1970, 5.