Farewell to Manzanar (book)

Title Farewell to Manzanar
Author Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
Original Publication Date 1972

Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After World War II Internment is a memoir by Sansei Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (1934– ), and is based on her memories of what her family endured before, during and after being forced to live in a concentration camp in Manzanar, California. The book was co-authored with her husband, James Houston (1933–2009) and published in 1972.

Although it is the story of only one Japanese American person's experience, Farewell to Manzanar has become a modern classic and is often required reading in school curricula, on a par with The Diary of Anne Frank, as examples of powerful first-person accounts about the effects of war on youth and the human spirit. In 1999, the San Francisco Chronicle named Farewell to Manzanar one of the twentieth century's 100 best nonfiction books from west of the Rockies and in 2001, Publishers Weekly listed it as one of the best-selling children's books of all time with over a million copies sold.[1]

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston was born on September 26, 1934, in Inglewood, California. The youngest of ten children, she spent her childhood growing up in southern California. The Wakatsuki family was living in Ocean Park, California, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Houston's father, who was a fisherman at the time, was accused of providing oil to the Japanese and was subsequently detained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and then interned in an Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) camp in North Dakota, while the rest of the family was sent to the Manzanar camp. Four years later, the Wakatsuki family returned to southern California where they lived until 1952 when they moved to San José, California. Houston was the first in her family to earn a college degree. She met her husband, James D. Houston while attending San José State University. They married in 1957 and have three children.

Based on the initial success of the book, Jeanne and James Houston were approached by film director John Korty to adapt the story into a television movie. The film, Farewell to Manzanar, starred an all Asian American cast including Yuki Shimoda, Nobu McCarthy and Pat Morita. The film aired on NBC in March 1976, and was subsequently nominated for an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Writing in a Drama, and won a Humanitas Prize and a Christopher Award.

In 2003, California Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante arranged for 10,000 VHS copies of the Farewell to Manzanar television movie to be distributed free of charge to all public middle schools, high schools and libraries in the state of California, along with copies of the book and accompanying lesson guides for teachers.[2] The book has also been adapted for the stage. In 2006, Cornerstone Theater Company and the Japanese American National Museum presented a limited run of a theatrical production of Farewell to Manzanar. This one-act stage version was adapted by Cynthia Gates Fujikawa and directed by Christopher Liam Moore.

While Farewell to Manzanar has been broadly embraced as a poignant account of a Japanese American's WWII experiences, it is also considered by post 1970s activists as flawed by its stoic, model minority point of view that homogenizes and softens the reactions and attitudes of the incarcerated. Critics say that the book recounts memories from the perspective of a child who was too young to grasp the complexities of the conditions that led to incarceration or the tragic political and social schisms created by the "loyalty" questionnaire and those who actively questioned the constitutionality of the camps.[3]

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki. Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973.

———. Interview. Online video. Japanese American National Museum, 2006. Discover Nikkei http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/interviews/profiles/61/.


  1. "The Best in the West / TOP 100 NONFICTION," San Francisco Chronicle, November 21, 1999; "All-Time Bestselling Children's Books: A listing of hardcovers that have sold 750,000 copies and paperbacks that have topped the one million copy mark over the years," Publishers Weekly, December 17, 2001.
  2. "The Legacy of 'Farewell to Manzanar,'" Japanese American National Museum, February 2007.
  3. Alice Murray Yang, What Did the Internment of Japanese Americans Mean? (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000).