The Invisible Thread (book)
|Title||The Invisible Thread|
|Original Publisher||Julian Messner|
|Original Publication Date||1991|
Memoir for young adult readers by the acclaimed children's book author that covers her charmed childhood in Berkeley, California, and her wartime incarceration during World War II.
The book is evenly divided between Uchida's prewar and wartime/postwar life. The first eleven chapters cover her idyllic childhood in Berkeley with her older sister Keiko and her kind and relatively prosperous parents (her father works for a Japanese trading company in San Francisco). She writes about friends and relatives, school, her early attraction to books and writing, and the disconnect between her badly wanting to be "American"—but being largely excluded from mainstream American life due to racial discrimination—and her "Japanese" cultural upbringing. The second half of the book covers her and her family's wartime forced removal and incarceration: her father's arrest and internment after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the indignities of life in a Tanforan horse stall and at Topaz, and eventual resettlement to continue her education at Smith College in Massachusetts. The main narrative of the book ends with her first day on the job as a schoolteacher in a Quaker-run school in Philadelphia after graduating with an M.Ed. from Smith. A brief epilogue recounts her trip to Japan that led her to embrace her Japanese side and that drove her to write "the kinds of books I'd never had as a child" for the Sansei, and ends with a summary of the Redress Movement and the need to keep the story alive. The book also includes an eight-page photographic insert.
Uchida explains the significance of the title image early in the book, describing "a long invisible thread would always bind Mama and Papa to the country they had left behind." She goes on to add that "that thread seemed to wind just as surely around Keiko and me as well". As literary scholar Rocio G. Davis writes, "[t]he eponymous thread—the shifting meaning of her relationship with the land of her parents—becomes a leitmotif in the autobiography."
Author Yoshiko Uchida (1921–92) was a pioneering Nisei author of children's books, all of which included Japanese or Japanese American characters. She was the first Japanese American author to write children's books specifically on the Japanese American wartime incarceration, starting with Journey to Topaz (1971). She published an incarceration memoir titled Desert Exile in 1982. Relative to that book, The Invisible Thread includes more about both her prewar life and her life after leaving the concentration camps, and her epilogue is informed by the successful movement for reparations that took place in the decade between the books.
Observed reviews were uniformly positive, with reviewers citing the impact of the writing, the depiction of the incarceration, and the countervailing presence of humor. Matthew Teorey writes that the "stories are so personal and the characters are so realistic that a reader cannot help but identify and empathize," while Phyllis Graves admires the "clear, smoothly written style." Of the incarceration, Zena Sutherland writes that Uchida attains "a sharper focus [relative to Journey to Topaz and sequels] on those horrors and on the emotional anguish that accompanied physical stress and deprivation" while Graves calls these depictions "an eye-opener" and "thought-provoking and important for giving young people a firsthand account of our inhumanity to others." Phyllis G. Sidorsky cites the "elements of humor and warmth that provide balance to the life of this woman who was to write more than 30 memorable books for children."
For More Information
Chen, Fu-jen, and Su-lin Yu. "Reclaiming the Southwest: A Traumatic Space in the Japanese American Internment Narrative." Journal of the Southwest 47.4 (Winter 2005): 551–70.
Davis, Rocio G. "Ethnic Autobiography as Children's Literature: Laurence Yep's The Lost Garden and Yoshiko Uchida's The Invisible Thread." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 28.2 (2003): 90–97.
Teorey, Matthew. "Untangling Barbed Wire Attitudes: Internment Literature for Young Adults." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 33.3 (Fall 2008): 227–45.
Fazioli, Carol. "Autobiographies—The Stories Behind the Stories." School Library Journal, Nov. 2003, 83. ["Uchida tells here story without bitterness or anger, and relays the joy she felt upon achieving her dream of becoming a teacher and author. She discovered that although she was thoroughly American, her Japanese ancestry shaped her character, as well as her writing."]
Graves, Phyllis. School Library Journal, April 1992, 144. ["Uchida's story is thought-provoking and important for giving young people a firsthand account of our inhumanity to others and providing them with an individual's look at her personal development as a writer."]
Sidorsky, Phyllis G. Childhood Education 68.4 (Summer 1992): 248. ["This is the touching chronicle of Yoshiko Uchida's growing up an facing the pain of discrimination... Although this action [incarceration] forms an important segment of the story, there are also elements of humor and warmth that provide balance to the life of this woman who was to write more than 30 memorable books for children."]
Sutherland, Zena. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 45.7 (March 1992): 195. ["Here is a sharper focus [relative to Journey to Topaz and sequels] on those horrors and on the emotional anguish that accompanied physical stress and deprivation. Uchida is open about her feelings in a way that will make admirers feel they are friends; as always, she writes with a mastery of style and an implicit respect for her readers."]
Weisman, Kay. Booklist, March 1, 1992, 1272. ["... this will be fascinating reading for history students, Japanese Americans, and fans of Uchida's books."]
- Yoshiko Uchida, The Invisible Thread (New York: Julian Messner, 1991), 5; Rocio G. Davis, "Ethnic Autobiography as Children's Literature: Laurence Yep's The Lost Garden and Yoshiko Uchida's The Invisible Thread," Children's Literature Association Quarterly 28.2 (2003), 94.
- Matthew Teorey, "Untangling Barbed Wire Attitudes: Internment Literature for Young Adults," Children's Literature Association Quarterly 33.3 (Fall 2008), 229; Phyllis Graves, School Library Journal, April 1992, 144; Zena Sutherland, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 45.7 (March 1992): 195; Phyllis G. Sidorsky, Childhood Education 68.4 (Summer 1992): 248.