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To survive, one must accept.
on November 12, 2012
Kimi Cunningham Grant wants her grandmother, whom she calls "Obaachan", to share her memories of the most tragic events of World War II: the internment of Japanese-Americans directly following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Obaachan was sent with her family to one of these camps as a young woman. There she meets her future husband, Kimi's grandfather, "Ojichan".
Because Obaachan is very private and has never spoken of these sad events in her life, Kimi has to be very careful and tread lightly when asking certain questions. Her Ojichan, the more approachable of her grandparents is long dead and not available to question. Therefore, she must gather her courage to approach Obaachan. Kimi wants to write a book not only for the purpose of recording her grandmother's experiences during such and important time in history, but to better know who her Obaachan really is. Thus begins the journey back in time to when Obachan was a young woman with dreams of attending college. Those dreams are shattered the moment news of the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor is reported. Obaachan's family, along with thousands of other Japanese-Americans, are herded out of the West coast and sent to live in concentration camps for the remainder of the war. Obaachan was just about to start college when the news arrives that they must leave everything behind and make the move to Heart Mountain, Wyoming. A place purposely chosen by the American government because of it's vast, desolate landscape and unforgiving winters.
Kimi wonders how her family, with Obaachan's ailing mother, withstood such harshness of conditions, being hated by the locals, and kept in the camps by stern, armed guards. Obachacn explains the mind set of "shikataganai", the belief that you must accept everything that happens to you without bitterness because you cannot change it. "You make the best out of your situation and you keep your head held high." I can imagine just how difficult this must have been for Kimi to accept, coming from a generation that is taught to question and protest injustices. But for Obaachan, "shikataganai" helped her hold on to her dignity and sense of self.
Most of this book are Obaachan's memories coupled with historical sources and Kimi's suppositions. There was much that Obaachan would not share due to maintaining her privacy leaving some parts of the story untold. For example, I would love to have known more about the American woman who requested to be imprisoned with her Japanese husband, or about the Japanese cross dresser, or the Japanese cowboy. The book left me a little unsatisfied, as did the abrupt ending. Still, it forms a purposeful addition to other books on this subject.