Lily Nakai and her family lived in Southern California, where sometimes she and a friend dreamt of climbing the Hollywood sign that lit the night. At age ten, after believing that her family was simply going on a camping trip, she found herself living in a tar-papered barrack, gazing out instead at the nightly searchlight. She wondered if anything would ever be normal again.
In this creative memoir, Lily Havey combines storytelling, watercolour, and personal photographs to recount her youth in two Japanese American internment camps during World War II. She uses short vignettes - snapshots of people, recreated scenes and events - to describe how a ten-year-old girl grew into a teenager inside these camps. Vintage photographs reveal the historical, cultural, and familial contexts of that growth and of the Nakai family's dislocation. They reveal the recollected lives of her mother and father in Japan and then America, where they began their arranged marriage and had two children. Havey's vivid and poignant watercolours depict decades-old memories and dreams and reflect moments of daily camp life illuminated by the author's adult perspective. The paintings and her animated writing draw readers into a turbulent era when America disgracefully incarcerated, without due process, thousands of American citizens because of their race.
These stories of love, loss, and discovery recall a girl balanced precariously between childhood and adolescence. In turns funny, wrenching, touching, and biting but consistently engrossing, they elucidate the daily challenges of life in the camp.
When, in 1980, Havey travelled across the Pacific and for the first time met her uncle Iwatake, a Zen Buddhist priest, she finally understood, in retrospect, the words her mother had spoken years earlier in camp: "You are American, but you are also Japanese."