House of the Red Fish (book)
|Title||House of the Red Fish|
|Original Publisher||Wendy Lamb Books|
|Original Publication Date||2006|
|Awards||New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age selection, 2007; Association for Library Service to Children, 2007 Notable Children's Books selection|
Young adult novel by Graham Salisbury about a Nisei teenager in wartime Honolulu who struggles to bring up the sunken fishing boat of his interned father. It is a sequel to the popular 1994 novel Under the Blood-Red Sun.
The story picks up in March of 1943, about a year after Under the Blood-Red Sun ends. Tomi Nakaji and Billy Davis are now in the 9th grade at Roosevelt High. When they go to Kewalo Basin to look at his father's sunken fishing boat, Tomi thinks about bringing up the boat somehow. Meanwhile, Keet Wilson, the older teenage son of the Nakaji's landlord and Tomi's mother's employer, continues to harass Tomi and his friends. When Mrs. Nakaji hangs out ceremonial carp for Boy's Day, Keet tears them down and rips them up. (This incident is the inspiration for the book's title.) Tomi also discovers that Keet has found the Nakaji family's sword hidden in the woods and taken possession of it. Meanwhile, Billy's mother, a nurse at Queen's hospital, discovers that Tomi's interned grandfather has had a stroke and has been brought to her hospital. The Davises bring the Nakajis to see him and arrange for his release. With the help of the Davises, Tomi's grandpa and grandpa's resourceful tattoo shop owning girlfriend, grandpa's friend Charlie's 300 lb football playing nephews, Tomi's Rats baseball team friends, and even some of his former rivals from the Kaka'ako Boys, a scheme for bringing up the boat—along with the necessary equipment—materializes. But can they get around Keet and his gang's violent opposition?
Many real historical elements of Japanese American life under martial law are noted in the storyline beyond the continued internment of Tomi's father, including mentions of the Varsity Victory Volunteers and Nisei soldiers serving in Europe. One of Tomi's friends anglicizes his name from "Ichiro" to "Frankie." General elements of life under martial law from the need to black out windows, the dusk curfew, and the need to carry gas masks are also key elements of the plot.
As in Under the Blood-Red Sun, House of the Red Fish is written in the first person voice of Tomi, and much of the dialogue reflects the Hawaiian Creole English (or "pidgin," as it is popularly known) spoken by most island residents of the time. Though the books are about the same length, the chapters in House of the Red Fish are much shorter with the first book consisting of 23 chapters compared to 61 for the sequel.
Author Graham Salisbury (1944– ) was born in Philadelphia, but mostly raised in Hawai'i, where his family has long roots going back to the early 1800s. His father, Henry Forester Graham, was a naval officer who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but who was later killed when his plane was shot down in the Pacific on Graham's first birthday. Salisbury grew up the windward side of O'ahu and also in Kailua-Kona and Kamuela on the Big Island where he boarded at Hawaii Preparatory Academy from the 7th grade. Taken by music at a young age, her pursued a music career in the 1960s, recording as part of the well-known Sunshine Pop band The Millennium and also as a solo artist under the name "Sandy Salisbury." He also worked on a deep-sea fishing boat and as the skipper of a glass-bottom boat. He eventually went on to graduate from California State University, Northridge in 1974 with the intention of becoming a teacher. He cites a reading of Alex Haley's Roots "which changed my live forever," inspiring him to become a reader and eventually a writer. After graduating with an M.F.A. from Vermont College of Norwich University in 1990, he published his first novel for young adults, Blue Skin of the Sea (1992) to great acclaim. It set the template for his future books in that it was set in Hawai'i and was a coming of age story with a teenage boy as protagonist intended for an audience of teenage boys. Under the Blood Red Sun followed in 1994.
The success of Under the Blood Red Sun inspired him to focus on the Japanese American story in later books. As he acknowledges in a 2007 interview, the book had "a rather open-ended ending" that led to the emergence of "new ideas." "I didn't set out to focus on the Japanese-American experience from the Hawaii point of view," he said. "But the power of their story, as it unfolded in my research, overwhelmed me." Though House of the Red Fish is the only direct sequel to Under the Blood Red Sun, two other books, Eyes of the Emperor (2005) and "Hunt for the Bamboo Rat" (2014) center on other Japanese American protagonists during World War II. 
Historical Accuracy and Response
The book is historically accurate for the most part. When Tomi's grandfather is released, we learn that he had been interned "at a stockade on Kauai." As a resident of O'ahu, he would have been held at Sand Island initially, and by the spring of 1943, would have been moved to a mainland internment camp. Confinement sites on the neighbor islands held only internees from those islands and would have been shut down, their internees transferred either to O'ahu camps or camps on the continent, by the time the events of the book take place. Later in the book, we are told that the older brother of one of the Kaka'ako Boys, Eddie Okubo, is in the army "somewhere in Europe" in the spring of 1943. But the 100th Infantry Battalion, the first Japanese American unit to make it to Europe, didn't get there until September of 1943.
Reviews for House of the Red Fish were uniformly positive with reviewers praising the sense of time and place ("Salisbury paints the tropical setting with vivid details"), the portrayal of community and friendship (""The easygoing friendship and good-natured banter among Tomi, Rico, Mose, and Billy make them an amiable group to be around"; "it has a leisurely pace that allows an exploration of both racism and community, the meanness of Keet Wilson standing in contrast to the rich diversity of cultures in Tomi’s world—Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Filipino, Portuguese"), and its general entertainment value ("Many readers, even those who don't enjoy historical fiction, will like the portrayal of the work and the male camaraderie"; "This book should appeal to readers who like to read about World War II, but also anyone who likes a story where good triumphs over evil will like this').
For More Information
Author website: http://grahamsalisbury.com/books/world-war-ii-novels/.
Burn, Connie Tyrrell. School Library Journal, Aug. 2006, 128. ["Salisbury paints the tropical setting with vivid details. He writes with balance of the ways in which war touches people, creating characters with fully realized motivations."]
Bush, Elizabeth. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 60.1 (Sept. 2006): 33. ["The easygoing friendship and good-natured banter among Tomi, Rico, Mose, and Billy make them an amiable group to be around, and readers will cheer their hard-won success."]
Fitzwater, Tracy A. Library Media Connection, Oct. 2006, 72. ["This book should appeal to readers who like to read about World War II, but also anyone who likes a story where good triumphs over evil will like this."]
Jansen-Gruber, Marya. Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews. ["This wonderfully written and very powerful work of historical fiction will give readers a very clear picture of what it was like to be a young American of Japanese descent living in Hawaii soon after the Pearl Harbor tragedy."]
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2006, 579. ["This sequel to Under the Blood-Red Sun (1994), winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, has one scene at its heart and might have been more effective as a short story."]
Rochman, Hazel. Booklist, Apr. 15, 2006, 64. ["Many readers, even those who don't enjoy historical fiction, will like the portrayal of the work and the male camaraderie."]
- "Graham Salisbury," Contemporary Authors Online (Detroit: Gale, 2009); "An Interview with Graham Salisbury," by Trisha, The Ya Ya Yas blog, May 17, 2007, https://theyayayas.wordpress.com/2007/05/17/an-interview-with-graham-salisbury/; Biography from Graham Salisbury website, http://grahamsalisbury.com/about/, all accessed on May 26, 2016. Quote from "Graham Salisbury," Contemporary Authors Online.
- "An Interview with Graham Salisbury," by Trisha.
- Connie Tyrrell Burns, School Library Journal, Aug. 2006, 128
- Elizabeth Bush, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 60.1, Sept. 2006, 33; Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2006, 579, accessed on May 26, 2016 at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/graham-salisbury/house-of-the-red-fish/.
- Hazel Rochman, Booklist, Apr. 15, 2006, 64; Tracy A. Fitzwater, Library Media Connection, Oct. 2006, 72.