Thursday, June 30, 2005

Some notes on Strawberry Days

Well, things are starting to bubble up for my new book, Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community, released earlier this month by Palgrave Macmillan.

I'm still waiting for the first newspaper reviews to begin appearing (the Seattle Times review is scheduled for July 10). In the meantime, both Sasha at Left in SF and Richard Estes at American Leftist -- who recently interviewed me on his KDVS-FM radio show -- have published nice reviews of the book on their respective blogs.

A couple of notes on these: Sasha mentions that she wishes the book had more about the actual camp experience. It's a reasonable point; I had a great deal more material I could have used on that account. But this aspect of the story is probably the one that has been written about most extensively, including such classics of the genre as Monica Sone's Nisei Daughter and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's Farewell to Manzanar. For narrative purposes, I decided to provide primarily a broad overview of the camp experience, combined with a number of telling details from the experiences of my interviewees.

Richard mentions another aspect of the book:
Perhaps, Neiwert's most impressive achievement is an understated tone that allows the experiences of his Nisei interviewees to shine. In this instance, narrative style possesses an importance beyond the literary. Anyone with the most glancing familiarity with a Japanese American community is aware that a publicly low-key, modest demeanor (regardless of the actual truth in private) was considered de rigeur. Modernist and post-modernist methods of storytelling may be a creative way of producing a ground breaking biography of John Brown, sociological insight into the history of Los Angeles or a compelling oral history of the Spanish Civil War, but utilizing such techniques to describe the Japanese American community of Bellevue would have been a grave cultural error.

I wish I had in fact been this thoughtful in my approach, but the truth is that I kept the writing as spare and direct as I could for a couple of reasons: (1) I didn't want my writing to get in the way of the story that my interviewees had to tell, and I wanted it to reflect the tone of their own telling of the story; (2) that's how I strive to write generally. I'm something of a product of the Norman Maclean/Raymond Carver school of writing, and this book -- produced over many years as it was -- is probably the most polished piece I've published. No doubt my long exposure to the cultural inclinations of my subjects helped me along the way, though.

I should also mention another signing event, this one on Thursday, July 14, at the Panama Hotel Cafe in Seattle's International District, sponsored by Kinokuniya Books. I'm very excited about this one because of the historicity of the locale -- it's a very cool old building -- and the likelihood that a number of folks who were in the camps are likely to be in the audience. Many thanks to Takami Nieda at Kinokuniya for setting this one up.

Finally, I'm trying to cobble together a self-sponsored West Coast tour, and I'm proceeding with arrangements for signings in the Bay Area and San Diego. But I'd like to ask my readers for help in two other locales: Portland and Los Angeles.

The problem in Portland is that Powell's completely dominates the author-event scene there, and they've evidently decided I'm not important enough to host; when I inquired about a signing at one of their stores, they informed me they received too many requests and were declining. So, for my Portland readers who'd like to see me do a signing there, I have two requests:

-- Contact Powell's and urge them to reconsider. You can either call their main number (503-228-4651) or e-mail the person in charge of author events:

-- Failing that, I'd like some suggestions for another bookstore with enough size to host an author event. So far I haven't found one.

Finally, in Los Angeles, the number of bookstores is overwhelming. I'm wondering if any of my LA-area readers could suggest some stores to inquire with.

Thanks, and happy reading.

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