Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review: The Twig

Lauren Kessler, Stubborn Twig, Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, Oregon, 2008, Pgs. 308.

Audience: Genealogists and Historians with an interest in Japanese immigration and assimilation in the United States around the time of World War II.

Purpose: This book addresses the experience of immigration to the United States and the racial hostility encountered by Japanese immigrants. As a secondary purpose, it is the history of a Japanese family and their experiences over three generations in Hood River, Oregon.

Author’s qualifications: The author, Lauren Kessler, has written eleven books and writes for several magazines. She is director of the graduate program in literary nonfiction at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Stubborn Twig, first published in 1993, won the Oregon Book Award. This book is the 2009 Oregon Reads Book for the Oregon Library Association and the author is actively promoting this reading program.

Content: Masuo Yasui came to the United States in 1903. He arrived by ship on the Oregon Coast and worked his way across the state, finally settling in Hood River, Oregon. There he and his “picture bride wife”, Shildzuyo, settle and have nine children. Masuo’s father and two brothers also come to the United States, but his father and older brother return to Japan. Masuo and his remaining brother Renichi are owners of a profitable store and own several orchards. Two of Masuo’s children die young in Hood River. When World War II breaks out the family is suddenly thrust into a heated racial situation. Masuo is arrested and taken away. One son is arrested for challenging the curfew for the Japanese. His court case lingers for years and is well known in Oregon Japanese history. Two of the children are in Colorado and two in college in Oregon go to Colorado and avoid being interred. The other two children, Shildzuyo, Renichi and his wife are taken away by train to the internment camps. The stories of the jails and the internment camps are compelling. The final chapters of the book share how the family reintegrated into the American culture. It was a difficult transition and was even felt by the third generation. who were either born during the internment or after the family had resettled. Only one son returns to Hood River to live and raise his family. This story offers viewpoints from both the Japanese (Nikkei) people and the Caucasian (Hakujin) people.

Writing style: Informal, but it can be challenging to keep perspective as the story progresses.

Organization: The book is divided into three sections: Issei, the first generation; Nisei, the second generation; Sansei, the third generation. Also included is an interview from one of the sons, and references to many additional interviews. There are reading group questions, which are very thought provoking. The main drawback to the book is that there are no footnotes or endnotes. At the end of the book, the author provides general sources and information about each chapter. There are no direct references to where quotes or materials are from. A bibliography may be organized from the Sources section and would aid in further research. The inclusion of family ancestral and desendency charts would have been a nice addition.

Accuracy: The Yasui family experience is well documented, and portrays the difficulties of a Japanese immigrant family to the United States. The sources are varied and yet are standard genealogical sources for the material. Accessing the sources will be challenging and some may only be in the possession of the author.

Conclusion: Stubborn Twig is a phenomenal book and well worth reading. It is a great example of how a writer portrays a family and incorporates historical information in the process. Every genealogist who plans to write a family history will benefit from reading this history.

First published in The Bulletin, by the Genealogical Forum of Oregon, March 2009.
All rights reserved by Susan LeBlanc

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