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The poignant story of a Japanese-American woman’s journey through one of the most shameful chapters in American history.
Kimi’s Obaachan, her grandmother, had always been a silent presence throughout her youth. Sipping tea by the fire, preparing sushi for the family, or indulgently listening to Ojichan’s (grandfather’s) stories for the thousandth time, Obaachan was a missing link to Kimi’s Japanese heritage, something she had had a mixed relationship with all her life. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, all Kimi ever wanted to do was fit in, spurning traditional Japanese culture and her grandfather’s attempts to teach her the language.
But there was one part of Obaachan’s life that fascinated and haunted Kimi―her gentle yet proud Obaachan was once a prisoner, along with 112,000 Japanese Americans, for more than five years of her life. Obaachan never spoke of those years, and Kimi’s own mother only spoke of it in whispers. It was a source of haji, or shame. But what really happened to Obaachan, then a young woman, and the thousands of other men, women, and children like her?
From the turmoil, racism, and paranoia that sprang up after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, to the terrifying train ride to Heart Mountain, Silver Like Dust captures a vital chapter the Japanese-American experience through the journey of one remarkable woman and the enduring bonds of family.
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Kimi Cunningham Grant is the 2009 recipient of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship in creative nonfiction. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her family and is an instructor of English at Penn State University.From Booklist:
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, wanting to fit in, Grant felt far removed from her Japanese heritage, including the internment of her grandparents during WWII. She’d visited Obaachan (which means “grandmother”) in Florida since childhood but did not feel close to her. Later, with a new, burning curiosity about her family and that chapter of their history, Grant was compelled to visit as an adult and draw her reluctant grandmother into remembrances of the past. Slowly, Obaachan recalls the family’s immigrant history, the segregation and limited prospects even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the internment of Japanese in the U.S. that followed. Two of Obaachan’s brothers served in the military while the family was interned in the camp, where she lost her mother and met her future husband. Grant offers a portrait of the stoicism and patriotism of her family as well as differences in generations, as the stories evoke her own feelings of rage. But throughout is a portrait of a courageous woman who endured hardship and later established a delicate balance of trust with her granddaughter that allowed her to finally tell the family’s story. --Vanessa Bush
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