We're excited for the upcoming release of Jeanette Arakawa’s new memoir, The Little Exile, which hits bookstores May 17th. In anticipation, we’ve pulled this week’s excerpt from the memoir, a book journalist Sharon Noguchi says “should be required reading for every schoolchild and every U.S. government official.”
This short passage reaches out to touch on the many themes and social elements which Arakawa’s prose breathes life into: the alienation of forced exile and imprisonment, the complexities of patriotism, the clashing of cultures, nuances between generations in families, the disorienting effects of nationalism and war – all filtered through the eyes of a young child whose innocence grapples with the tumultuous mechanisms of the world in the early 1940s.
In the meantime, Papa discovered that the Gilfillan radio shortwave band to Japan worked, although we were almost half a world away. The early morning news broadcasts from Japan could be heard late in the afternoon in Arkansas. When I returned home from school, all his writing material had been put away. Instead, I found Papa sitting with his ear pressed to the speaker, slowly turning the dial like a safecracker listening to tumblers. With patience, the crackling buzz would dissolve into a rising and falling voice of a man who sounded like he was under water. A slight slip of his hand, and the static would return.
Listening to the Japanese newscasts became a daily routine. Word spread quickly that we were getting broadcasts from Japan. The apartment began to fill with a different set of people. They were men who were not working. Either elderly or lazy, I thought. They listened to reports of battles in Luzon and Mindanao in the Philippines, from which Papa drew elaborate maps and followed the course of the war. These replaced his calligraphy on the wall. I was uncomfortable and confused. America treated us like we weren’t’ really Americans, but Papa had pledged loyalty to the United States when he signed the questionnaire. He said he would fight for the United States, like Uncle Robert and Uncle Keith, if the government asked.
“What are you doing, Papa! I thought you were rooting for America,” I blurted. “If you keep this up and you get caught, we could all be shipped to Japan!” I expected to be scolded for my rude outburst, but instead, he answered, almost in a whisper, “It’s been confusing for me, too. I’ve been thinking a lot about Grandfather and Grandmother in Japan, lately. I worry about what will become of them.”
I remember it was a Tuesday. I returned home from school to find the apartment empty. The maps and charts had been stripped from the wall and Papa was gone! They’ve taken him away! I thought. The authorities found out about his listening to Japanese broadcasts and have taken him away! I ran next door.
“Papa’s gone!” I said. “Do you know anything about it? Did they take him away?”
“Take him away? No, no, of course not. He returned to work,” Mrs. Sakai said. “Aren’t you glad?” She held me as I sobbed.
To find out more about The Little Exile or to pre-order a copy, visit our website here.