This is not just another book about the Japanese American internment in 1942 to War Relocation camps. Jamie Ford tells this heartfelt story from the point of view of young Henry Lee, a 13-year-old Chinese boy, and Keiko Okabe, an adolescent Japanese/American girl who are the only non-whites in an exclusive prep school in Seattle. The book delves deeply into the close friendship of the two teenagers and the bullying they have to endure at their school, their unique and very different relationships they have with their fathers, and their forced separation when Keiko and her family are sent to an internment camp.
Alternating between the story of young Henry and Keiko is the adult perspective in 1986 of middle-aged Henry who has just lost his wife to cancer. In the opening pages, Henry comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, a National Historic Landmark in Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of several Japanese families, left in the hotel basement when they were sent to the internment camps. Henry investigates the suitcases himself and finds Keiko’s sketchbooks and her parasol covered with 40 years of dust. This discovery forces Henry to try to come to terms with the actions of his Chinese nationalist father, and decisions that he himself made decades ago with regard to Keiko.
This is Ford's first novel, and it’s a great first effort. Jamie Ford is the great-grandson of a Chinese mining pioneer, and grew up near Seattle’s Chinatown. He gives us an intimate look at a very ugly period of U.S. history, when Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor caused such widespread panic and hatred that the president himself rubber-stamped the authorization of the internment camps. 62% of those sent to the camps were U.S. citizens.