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Jeanne Wakatsuki was seven years old in 1942 when her family was uprooted from their home in southern California and sent to live at Manzanar internment camp — with 10,000 other Japanese-Americans. Detained after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Wakatsuki and her family were forced to live in the camp for three and a half years despite the fact that the Wakastuski children were born in the United States.
Approximately 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry were removed from the West Coast to ten island camps by August 12, 1942 after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, giving the War Department authority to define military areas in the Western states and to exclude from them anyone who might threaten the war effort. The Supreme Court ruled in December 18, 1944 that loyal citizens cannot be held in detention camps against their will, but Manzanar camp was not officially closed until November 21, 1945 after Japan surrendered. People of Japanese ancestry were not granted the right to become nationalized citizens until June 1952.
Despite how well-read I consider myself to be with issues pertaining to World War II, the Japanese-American internment camps are a little known aspect of history. I cannot say for certain if this time in history is purposefully ignored (although, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is true) or just unknown, but I have never had a history class mention these camps. I, myself, learned about them at a young age but never found a book on them until now.
The childlike innocence infused into this book despite the passage of time underscores how confusing and unimaginable the interment of American citizens by their own government is. The first section of the book explains life leading up to internment, and I shall not forget the imagine of Wakatsuki’s mother throwing her china on the floor rather than selling it to those acting like vultures, trying to purchase expensive goods for insultingly low prices.
The second part details life in the camp — how the barracks were so hastily built they were not fit for inhabitants — and the third part delves into life after the camp was closed – how the racism and bias towards Japanese-Americans did not end with the closure of the camps. This section becomes more of an internal analysis as Wakatsuki Houston explains how this racism had to permeate her own understanding of who she is and how she should behave, particularly that “you are going to be invisible anyway, so why not completely disappear” (pg. 159).
- Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki and James D. Houston. Farewell to Manzanar. New York: Laurel-Leaf, 2007. Originally published 1973. Print. 222 pgs. ISBN: 9780553272581. Source: Free bin.
In this “unauthorized pardoy”, Randall asks the question: where were the mulatto (mixed race) children of Tara? Thus, we are given the story of an illgeitimate mulatto woman named Cynara (or Cinnamon, or Cindy), the daughter of Planter (the master of the plantation) and Mammy. But Mammy’s love is reserved for Other, the beautiful yet spoiled daughter of Planter and Lady, and Cindy is eventually sold off by Planter without protest from Mammy. She makes her way to Atlanta to become the mistress of a prominent white businessman named R, who has left his wife behind without a damn.
I picked up this book because while I do love Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, I know it is not without its flaws, particularly when it comes to romanticizing the South and slavery through characters like Mammy. Randall’s short book is in many ways both a prequel and a sequel to Mitchell’s classic, allowing readers to see the dark sides of slavery and the conflicted position in which women like Mammy were placed as it parallels the well-known story of Scarlett O’Hara. It sort of revels in the darkness and shadows of the original story, piecing together stories and suggesting motives for characters who were outright ignored in the original novel. Miss Priss (Prissy) is resentful of Mealy Mouth (Melanie) for having her brother killed, and it is suggested that Garlic (Pork) had something to do with the death of Planter (Gerald).
Some of the suggestions go to far; almost board on hatred for Mitchell’s original tale. And those looking for a conclusion to the story of R(hett) and Other (Scarlett) will be divided based perception of Rhett’s decision to leave Scarlett — justified or vengeful? But that’s not the point of this book, and I think readers would be misguided to believe that it is. The focus is on the forgotten women and men of Tara, on those who break their backs and their hearts creating the world Mitchell seems to mourn in her novel. In that regard, the book is a rather clever read as it attempts to pick apart the flaws of a one-sided presentation of life in the Antebellum South.
Ironically, the downfall of this book is its association with Mitchell’s book, however unauthorized that may be. It could have been an evocative tale about the struggles of being mixed raced before, during, and after the Civil War, and some of that is well-maintained in this presentation. Yet the way Randall decides to finish off Mitchell’s tale is bound to ruffle some feathers and move people’s focus from what she trying to present to a more defensive posture.
- Mitchell, Margaret. Gone with the Wind. New York, NY: Warner, 1999. Originally published 1936. Print. 1037 pgs. ISBN: 9780446675536. Source: Library.
- Randall, Alice. The Wind Done Gone. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. Print. 210 pgs. ISBN: 061810450X. Source: Free bin.
Even though I haven’t picked up a non-school assigned book since March, I apparently cannot resist the temptation of free books in the donation bin. I snagged three (pictured above) yesterday, and I imagine more will make their way into my room as the dorms empty of residents.
- American Woman (Susan Choi), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
- Farewell to Manzanar (Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston), a memoir of a Japanese-American family living in an interment camp during World War II.
- The Wind Done Gone (Alice Randall), which bills itself as “a provocative literary parody that explodes the mythology perpetrated by a Southern classic”. You can probably guess a to what that classic book may be based on the title.
If you’ve wondered where I have disappeared to in the last few months and why reviews have been so spotty around here, I’d like to point you in the direction of the photograph above, which shows what I call the real culmination of The Honors Project. (And sometimes that was the nicest thing I had to say.)
Although, I stopped reading books for that project at the end of 2012, I have spent the last four months researching and analyzing data and writing and reanalyzing data and rewriting my honors thesis. It’s been a frustrating and dizzying and rewarding and academically challenging process.
I turned in the final, spiral bound copy early last week and defended just this past Monday. No word yet on if I received honors, high honors, or highest honors. (Actually, I haven’t even been told if I passed or not.) But it is such a relief and exciting feeling to know that I am done. Er, at least until I start my next thesis for my master’s degree in August. In the mean time, I hope to return to being a much more active participant in the book blogging world. I have missed reading and discussing books with you all terribly!
[Note: This review is adapted from a paper I wrote for class on the book. It is more academic than my reviews normally are.]
Ramadan’s book attempts to provide context to the so-called “Arab Spring”, a series of popular uprisings that spread from Tunisia and Egypt to Syria and Libya without warning. He offers the revolutions up as “awakenings” of public uprisings, but strongly councils against the binary between secularism and Islam harnessed by the young activists in their protestations. The early successes of these moments will fall apart unless activists and leaders can connect their message with Islamic references, images, and beliefs and assure the world that Islam is both compatible with and necessary for democracy within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
The author rejects the idea that the international community orchestrated the uprisings to serve their own ends, but he puts forth the suggestion that support during and after the revolution was determined only by economic incentives rather than a need to spread and support democratic uprisings. Large American technology corporations with the participation of American and European governments funded training for young cyber-based activists across the region, and companies like Google offered satellite linkups to protestors after states like Egypt attempted to shut down the protestors’ online activities. But the upwelling of support for these activists caught these governments unaware, and neither these states nor technology giants have rushed to support democratic uprising in every part of the region. Protestors in Syria have neither been offered the same satellite connections nor the air support of the U.S. military because, according to Ramadan, the country hold little economic importance for the American and European governments due to a lack of oil and other natural resources.
Despite his concentration on this issue within the first two chapters, this is not the purpose of the book and Ramadan himself reminds readers at the beginning of the third chapter that his main purpose is “to gauge what role Islam as a reference will and can play at this critical moment in the evolution of the Arab world” (Ramadan 2012, 67). Ramadan explains how debates over the place of Islam in society focus on (1) the compatibility of Islam and democracy and (2) the role of Islamist parties in these new societies, and he reaches the conclusion that the type of democracy in Muslim-majority countries will be of the same design as that in Western countries.
Ramadan calls for Muslim countries to “set aside the pointless, counterproductive, and empty quarrel over the conflict between secularization and Islam and/or Islamism” (pg. 81). He points to Turkey as a historical example of where imposition of Western style secularization failed to bring about the same freedom and respect to individual beliefs and religious practices experienced by the West. Under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey experienced secularism as “rule by an authoritarian military regime under which freedoms were few, as the regime was essentially anti-religious and anti-Muslim” (pg. 76). Other Muslim majority nations experiences similar outcomes under secular dictatorships, many of which were overthrown during the Arab Spring.
He encourages protestors and revolutionists to return to their religious tradition to find the values and messages within that will help them create a more responsible and responsive society. He sees the success of these societies being determined by the ability of new leaders to move away from “the empty controversies that pit secularists and Islamists against one another” (pg. 84) towards a civil society that defines relations within a democratic process.
The fundamental issue with this book is not the argument itself but rather the convoluted nature in which the content is written. In order to set up his discussion of the future of this movement towards democracy, Ramadan traces the development of the uprisings in each country as a single timeline of events. This is arguably the weakest aspect of his book because the skipping from one country to the next fails to create neither a cohesive narrative of events across the entire region or within a specific country. Instead, the specifics becomes muddled and lost, and it is only after reading the appendices at the end of the book that the reader is able to understand the spread of the “Arab Spring” from one country to the next. This collection of articles responds to each country as the protests begin, and many of Ramadan’s points about the development of the uprisings become clearer through his focus on a particular country or uprising in the shorter articles.
Give the pitfalls in his tracing of the development of the Arab Spring, it is difficult to follow Ramadan’s arguments later on the book. His conclusion does a nice job of wrapping up his prescription for the continuation of change in the region, particularly the expansion and/or creation of a civil society built around the ethics of good governance and a reclaiming of the meaning of Islam. But even close readers will struggle to tease out this argument within the text as Ramadan flits from topic to the next, from one country to the next. Stylistically, the book either needs to be divided in chapters based upon location or based upon argument. Trying to incorporation every argument with every country regardless of time period makes it difficult to ascertain where each argument applies let alone begins and ends. Instead, Ramadan’s thesis begins to read like sweeping generalizations written hastily to describe an uncompleted and unknown process.
- Ramadan, Tariq. Islam and the Arab Awakening. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 245 pgs. IBSN: 9780199933730. Source: Purchased.