Before The Red Kimono was published, I read another book about an internment camp in the Arkansas Delta titled, Camp Nine, by Vivienne Schiffer. (University of Arkansas Press, October 2011)
Following is a synopsis of the book:
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the U.S. military to ban anyone from certain areas of the country, with primary focus on the West Coast. Eventually the order was used to imprison 120,000 people of Japanese descent in incarceration camps such as the Rohwer Relocation Center in remote Desha County, Arkansas.
This time of fear and prejudice (the U.S. government formally apologized for the relocations in 1982) and the Arkansas Delta are the setting for Camp Nine. The novel’s narrator, Chess Morton, lives in tiny Rook, Arkansas. Her days are quiet and secluded until the appearance of a “relocation” center built for what was, in effect, the imprisonment of thousands of Japanese Americans.
Chess’s life becomes intertwined with those of two young internees and an American soldier mysteriously connected to her mother’s past. As Chess watches the struggles and triumphs of these strangers and sees her mother seek justice for the people who briefly and involuntarily came to call the Arkansas Delta their home, she discovers surprising and disturbing truths about her family’s painful past.
Ms. Schiffer grew up in the Arkansas Delta and that’s evident by her ability to put the reader right in the middle of the area through her writing. The following excerpt demonstrates how her portrayal of the Delta makes it a separate character unto itself.
The air is molasses in summer, an iron blanket of cold in the winter. The vast landscape tricks the mind into thinking that gravity is somehow stronger here, that the bayous and canebrakes can pin you against them so that even light can’t escape.
Ms. Schiffer also has a great familiarity with the history of Rohwer Relocation Center, as her mother, Rosalie Gould, had and has ongoing friendships with many former internees. While researching The Red Kimono, I was fortunate to meet and interview this very gracious woman.
At the time, she had rooms full of memorabilia–art, writings, photographs–given to her by former internment camp art teacher, Mabel Rose Jamison (Jamie) Vogel, as well as many former internees. I was honored when, during my visit, she let me look through the items at my leisure.
“Rohwer at Night” — Artist, a Rohwer Internee (Courtesy Butler Center for Arkansas Studies)
In 2010, Mrs. Gould donated these priceless treasures to the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock. I recently visited the Butler Center and was happy to see these items now not only displayed for the public to see and learn from, but also to know the pieces would be stored and cared for so that they will still be available for generations to come.
Last year at a book signing in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I met Jimmy Peacock and his wife, Marion, who were also originally from the same area. I later learned that Mr. Peacock maintains a blog with many essays and stories of the area.
Some months later, he wrote me to let me know he’d reviewed both Camp Nine and The Red Kimono. In this review, he compared and contrasted the two books and I found the depth and analysis of his comparison very intriguing:
Here are a few excerpts from Mr. Peacock’s extensive analysis:
Since Morrill is partially of Japanese descent through her mother who was an internee in one of the Japanese camps, Jan’s unique contribution to the subject of the entire forced Japanese relocation is her knowledgeable and personal portrayal though fictional characters of the terrible wrong that was done to them as a people, as families, and as individuals.
While Vivienne Gould’s [Schiffer] narrative is invaluable in presenting an outside view of the effect of the Japanese relocation camps on the homeland and lifestyle of the people of the Arkansas Delta, both white and black, Jan Morrill’s narrative offers an invaluable inside view of what life was like for those who were forced from their own particular American homeland and lifestyle and shipped halfway across the country to be interned within the barbed-wire prisons called relocation camps.
Despite the differences in Vivienne Schiffer’s narrative and Jan Morrill’s narrative, both primarily set in the Arkansas Delta of the 1940s, their historical novels based on the actual events represented and portrayed in this book are of immense importance.
I think you’ll see after reading Mr. Peacock’s blog post titled, “The Red Kimono: A Book Review about WWII Japanese Relocation Camps” that reading and comparing these two historical fictions will give readers an important look at history through two very different perspectives.
I believe that’s how history is best studied and remembered — through multiple perspectives.
Click on the book covers to purchase from Amazon: