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The Four Immigrants Manga : A Japanese Experience in San Francisco, 1904-1924 Paperback – June 1, 1999
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From Library Journal
These poignant tales of four immigrants in turn-of-the-century San Francisco try for irony in depicting the protagonists' attempts to understand the convoluted whims of their American employers. But the humor hovers near slapstick, and the pie is always in the face of the Caucasians. The illustrations are direct and effective; we see how hard it is for Japanese immigrants to reach the top shelf of an American cupboard. The story is bookended by the dates 1904 and 1924, as in 1924 the immigration laws stiffened and some of the protagonists elected to return to Japan. After 18 years of preparation, this book includes extensive notes historically pinpointing several of the cartoons and an introduction providing an overview of the author/illustrator. Though not quite the first "graphic novel" ever, as it is being touted, this book does have historical significance and belongs in libraries specializing in comics, cartoons, and graphic novels, as well as those focusing on California history, immigrant studies, and the Japanese American experience.?Stephen Weiner, Maynard P.L., MA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
While researching a book on Japanese comics, Schodt turned up this comic-strip account of the experiences of Japanese immigrants in early-twentieth-century San Francisco. Now, 75 years after its original publication, this unique record of issei life, newly translated, is made available to a wider audience (the original edition contained dialogue in both Japanese and English, making it unreadable to either Americans or native Japanese). Kiyama's autobiographical story follows four young friends who hit U.S. shores in 1904 and work as houseboys and farmers. They live through the great earthquake, World War I, and the influenza epidemic; suffer prejudice and misunderstanding; acquire businesses and picture brides; and turn from youths into men. The work is a fascinating cultural document of an era of great interest to scholars of Asian American culture. Since it is apparently the first U.S. comic book consisting of original material instead of reprinted newspaper strips, it is also of interest to students of American comics. Gordon Flagg
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The story was originally bilingual. This edition has translated the Japanese word balloons into printed English and left the original English hand-lettered speech balloons when the characters are speaking English. It's a fascinating look at American culture about a hundred years ago, with some pretty unflattering looks at racism and bigotry, along with earnestness and hope.
It also covers the time of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and its aftermath in a uniquely firsthand way.
The jokes may not come across as particularly funny -- humor is a delicate thing, especially when in another time and culture -- but the story is warm and humane.
All in all, it's a fast read, but a particularly enjoyable one that will give most readers new insight into the Japanese-American experience of the 1904-1924 period.
I found it especially interesting to read the notes after each two-page "chapters" in the back of the book, which added depth to what was happening and provided historical content as well as further describing conditions in San Fransisco at that time.
Comments were made at the beginning of the book that the cartoonist had limited his market because he was writing strictly for fellow immigrants, who would best understand the mixture of Japanese and English that he used in his writing. This is denoted throughout the book with shaky letters for English, which immigrants had difficulty following and plain type-set for regular Japanese, their birth tongue.
As for the artwork, think more old-school Japanese and American comics than the manga that is popular today-- don't be expecting tick marks or sweatdrops for example!
For me especially this had a lot of fond memories. I am not Japanese, but my family moved to San Fransisco in the early 1905 from Italy, so a lot of this made me remember stories about my great grandfather and my great grandmother--my great-grandfather built a shoe-store that was destroyed by the San Fransisco earthquake. Even if you don't buy this book for the humor, at least consider the purchase to read about immigrants to America in the 1900's.