Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai

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Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Publishing Date:  March 1st 2014
Genre: Poetry,Historical Fiction,Young Adult
ISBN: 9780807517390
Goodreads: 4.14
Rating: ★★★

The credit for my fascination with World War II related fictions can be given to the brilliant Markus Zusak and his wonderful creation The Book Thief.  After that there was no looking back for me, if a blurb intrigued me enough I would surely pick up the book.

Recently I read Anna Hope’ beautiful début novel Wake,  and fell in love with it. I guess it’s the rawness of the era, the uncertainty of life, the way it affected the world, is what makes reading tales set around WWII such an amazing experience. I was a bit skeptical, and frankly worried that it may get monotonous for me if I continue reading books in the same vein, but reading the synopsis of Mariko Nagai’ Dust of Eden on Netgalley I couldn’t help myself and requested a copy of it.

What makes DOE stand out for me, amidst so much WWII fiction, with more definitely coming up everyday is its duality. The fact that it’s a book which focuses on a Japanese family set in US, makes it unique to me. I can’t say I have read a ton of books set in the era but those that I have, are based in Germany or UK or other European nations.

I remember reading about WWII, and the infamous Pearl Harbor massacre in History during school. At that point of time it seemed such a horrible thing to me, I was sorry for the people who lost their lives, their loved ones and I remember this whole discussion happened about why wars have always dammed the people. It doesn’t matter which country wins or loses, cos ultimately in a tragedy of this sort, no side is the winner. Not really. How can any side proclaim victory when in its wake war just leaves destruction, death and devastation.

Nagai traces the journey of the Pan-American community, in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor Attack, through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Mina Masako Tagawa. Mina resides in Seattle with her parents, Grandpa and older brother Nick. The day that Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, is the day Mina’ world starts crashing around her.

Her father is taken away, their accounts and assets are freezed. Everywhere that Mina or her family members travel their presence is frowned at by someone or the other. Despite being born and raised in America, the fact that Mina & Nick, consider themselves American because they know no other home, they are just seen as the people of the country who just wrecked havoc on America. Barring her best friend Jamie, Mina has no friends left.

Soon enough, Mina & her family along with the members of the Pan-American communities from across the US  are made to relocate to internment camps. With just two bags in hand per person, they have to move out of their home leaving everything and everyone they ever knew behind.

In August 1942 the Tagawa family is moved to the Minidoka Relocation Center in Hunt, Idaho. The living conditions are horrible, the food is limited and just about edible. The bathing & bathroom  facilities are absolutely terrible,a curfew is imposed from 8 pm to 6 am. People are made to stand in line for hours to take baths, use rest rooms, give food.

Despite being Americans, the Tagawa family and other members of the community are treated like outcasts, enemies. Her father becomes a shadow of his former self, her brother Nick increasingly becomes volatile owing to the situations and her mother loses her smile. Mina finds herself constantly stifled with the discontent of her home, especially when Nick decides to enlist himself. Her only solace becomes writing to her friend Jamie and eventually studying in a makeshift school created within the confines of the camp for the children of the community, even though it barely has decent seats to sit and a limited library of books to read.

Like Mina notes, they are stripped off their dignity. And their identity becomes a question, caught between two countries and a war, they are seen as the outsiders on both sides. To the Americans, they are people with slanted eyes and yellow skin, to the Japanese they are Americans through and through who just happen to have Sino features but are unable to even speak the language of their ancestors properly.

This was my first experience reading Nagai, and though it took me some time to get a grip on her style, I did end up liking it. Could be read once for sure.

I was provided an advance readers copy for reviewing courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review of the book. This review is in no way influenced.

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