The Little Exile (book)


Title The Little Exile
Author Jeanette S. Arakawa
Original Publisher Stone Bridge Press
Original Publication Date 2017
Pages 248 pages
WorldCat Link https://www.worldcat.org/title/little-exile/oclc/959035007

Memoir by Jeanette A. Arakawa covering her wartime incarceration at the Stockton Assembly Center and Rohwer, Arkansas, concentration camp and postwar resettlement in Denver. Though written in the first person, her name and those of others in the book have been changed.

As the story begins, Shizue Matsui—dubbed "Marie" by a teacher—is seven years old, and lives with her family in San Francisco. Her father runs a successful cleaning business, where her mother also works. She has a brother, Brian, who is two years older. At the end of 1940, her father moves the family to the Sunset District where he is able to expand his business, though the new neighborhood is less friendly to Japanese Americans than the old one.

The attack on Pearl Harbor brings their happy life to an end. Despite attempts to demonstrate their patriotism, they can see the writing on the wall. Her father sells the cleaning business for $100, and the family moves to Stockton where Marie's maternal grandparents have a hotel. They are nonetheless forcibly removed two months later, first to the Stockton Assembly Center, then to Rohwer, where they arrive on Marie's tenth birthday, October 6, 1942. The middle chapters of the books include a series of stories of camp life from the perspective of a curious and friendly child and the difficulties her parents encounter.

As the camp empties in 1945, Marie and Brian persuade their parents to seek to leave also. Finding laundry related jobs in Denver, they move there. Though the jobs pay well, their living arrangements are squalid, and Marie experiences great difficulties at a hostile school and has no friends. Though things get better, they long to return to San Francisco. Persuaded, their father secures employment and housing in San Francisco, and the book ends as they return home some five years after they had left.

An afterword includes an account of how Arakawa began to take an interest in writing in her sixties and how the book came to be.

A reviewer writing in Kirkus Reviews found The Little Exile found the book "spotty and episodic", concluding that while "[t]hese are experiences that need to be remembered,... Arakawa's murder are not as compellingly related as other novels or personal accounts of the travesty."Reviewing the book for the Nichibei Weekly, Jill Shiraki calls it "a delightful read for all ages."[1]

The account has two small errors: Upon arrival at at the "assembly center," Arakawa writes there her "new address was 6-108-D, Stockton Assembly Center, War Relocation Authority, Stockton, California" (page 102). But the "assembly centers" were run by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (a branch of the U.S. Army), not the WRA, a civilian agency that ran the longer term camps. Later, as the family considers leaving the safety of Rohwer for the outside world, she writes that "[o]ne young woman who had moved to Michigan had been attacked and murdered" (197). While Japanese Americans were certainly the target of violent harassment and hate crimes—and rumors of such crimes were rampant in the concentration camps—no such crime took place, at least in the time period (late 1945) depicted.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

Might also like Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp by Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey; Farewell to Manzanar by James Houston and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston; To the Stars: The Autobiography of George Takei, Star Trek's Mr. Sulu by George Takei

For More Information

Publisher website: http://www.stonebridge.com/catalog/the-little-exile.

Niiya, Brian. "Book Review: The Little Exile." Densho Blog, May 16, 2017.

Shiraki, Jill. "Recapturing and Reinventing a Young Heroine's Bay Area WWII-era Memories." Nichibei Weekly, Jan. 1, 2018, 19..

Footnotes

  1. Kirkus Reviews, Apr. 15, 2017, accessed on May 10, 2017 at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jeanette-s-arakawa/the-little-exile/; Jill Shiraki, "Recapturing and Reinventing a Young Heroine's Bay Area WWII-era Memories," Nichibei Weekly, Jan. 1, 2018, 19..