What the Scarecrow Said (book)


Title What the Scarecrow Said
Author Stewart David Ikeda
Original Publication Date 1996

Novel set in the last months of World War II whose protagonist is a middle-aged Nisei widower who resettles in a small New England town.

William Fujita arrives in Juggeston, a small Quaker town in New England, in late 1944 to try to rebuild his life after the events of World War II claim his thriving Pasadena, California, nursery and both his wife and only son. He moves to "Widow's Peak," inhabited by Margaret Kelly, a nurse who has just lost her doctor husband and Livvie Tufteller, a young war widow, and her eight-year-old son Garvin. With his new friends, Fujita is tasked with starting a farming operation on the barren hill while at the same time trying to track down a mysterious younger woman named Yoneko. The story alternates between the events on the hill—the uneasy reception of the local residents, the evolving relationships between Fujita and each of residents of Widow's Peak, and the challenges of the farm—and Fujita's life story in California up to that point, starting with his Issei parents' immigration, his colorful birth, and his marriage and family. The main story arc takes places over a nine-month period, ending with the end of World War II, though the book includes a brief section of what would become of the main characters in subsequent decades, as well as a fairly detailed section on historical sources. The title refers to an unusual looking scarecrow that Margaret had erected on the property.

The author was born in August 1966 of mixed race ancestry. His parents divorced when he was a child, and he largely grew up living with his white mother in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. However, he spent weekends with his Nisei grandparents in Wallingford.[1] He began writing the novel while in an MFA program at the University of Michigan in the winter of 1990—in his personal essay titled "Mixing Stories," he wrote of having a dream of "an elderly Japanese man and a white boy outfitting a scarecrow on a farm" which eventually "spurs six years' labor on a historical novel in which I can explore all the questions I could never ask my family"—and continued to work on it upon securing a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin in fall of 1993.[2] During this time period, his grandfather's illness along with the culmination of the Redress Movement, led to explorations of the family history, which in turn influenced the development of the novel. A secondary character in the novel, Calvin Igawa, shares many elements of his grandfather's personal history.[3]

What the Scarecrow Said received largely positive reviews. Dorothy S. Golden called it a "... rich and multilayered first novel," while Donna Kato called it "a tale full of vivid movement and fresh insight."[4] The reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that "this generous story of psychological healing—eschewing both the traditionally heroic treatment of the time and a revisionist, damning one—provides a version of wartime life that may be as true as any." J. Tharp in Choice cited the fact that most literature on the camps is by and about women, and notes that Scarecrow is "unusual and welcome at the very least because it details the life of a Nisei man."[5]

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Ikeda, Stewart David. What the Scarecrow Said: A Novel. New York: Regan Books, 1996.

---. "Mixing Stories." In Last Witnesses: Reflections on the Wartime Internment of Japanese Americans. Edited by Erica Harth. New York: Palgrave, 2001. 75–98.

What the Scarecrow Said on the author's website.

Reviews

Golden, Dorothy S. Library Journal, May 15, 1996, 84.

Kato, Donna. "The Winter of Content." Los Angeles Times, June 30, 1996.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1996, 624–25.

Tharp, J. Choice, February 1997, 966–67.

Publishers Weekly, May 6, 1996, 68.

Footnotes

  1. Marc Star, "Born Again," Transpacific, Sept. 1996, 38; Stewart David Ikeda, "Mixing Stories" in Last Witnesses: Reflections on the Wartime Internment of Japanese Americans (edited by Erica Harth; New York: Palgrave, 2001), 75.
  2. Ikeda, "Mixing Stories," pp. 77–78.
  3. Carol Ikeda, the author's grandfather, grew up in Montana and moved to California for college where he became a promising graduate student in chemistry. With the backing of Linus Pauling, he was able to leave Tulare Assembly Center for a fellowship at the University of Wisconsin—stopping along the way to visit his family in Montana who were facing very difficult times—only to be turned away once he got there because the school was doing work for the navy. He subsequently moved to Chicago while looking for another graduate program. The Calvin Igawa character in the novel is close friend of Tony Fujita, the son of the novel's protagonist, and shares most of these experiences. He passes through Juggeston briefly on his way to another graduate school.
  4. Dorothy S Golden, Library Journal, May 15, 1996, p. 84; Donna Kato, "The Winter of Content," Los Angeles Times, June 30, 1996, accessed on December 5, 2013 at http://articles.latimes.com/1996-06-30/books/bk-19791_1_stewart-david-ikeda.
  5. Publishers Weekly, May 6, 1996, p. 68; J. Tharp, Choice, Feb. 1997, 966.