News | 5 February 2018

Former THI fellow Karen Yamashita’s memoir explores Japanese-American internment

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The new book examines her family’s experience through personal records found in the family archive.

Award-winning author and UC Santa Cruz literature professor Karen Tei Yamashita will read from her new memoir on Thursday, February 1, as part of the 2018 winter installment of the Living Writers Series.

Letters to Memory (Coffeehouse Press) examines her own family’s experience in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II through letters, stories, photographs, official documents, art, journals, and other personal records found in the family archive.

Set in five thematically linked sections titled Poverty, Modernity, Love, Death, and Laughter, Yamashita exposes the cruelty, humiliation, and absurdity that her extended family suffered in the relocation camp.

In the process, she ponders the big questions—such as what is the meaning of evil, justice, war, and forgiveness?—and considers the answers suggested in classic works like the Illiad, the Mahabharata, and King Lear.

As Literary Hub said of the book, “Yamashita goes beyond her family’s story as internees to unpack what that experience became as they dealt with the ordeal of building new identities and re-establishing their communities in the face of great loss and ongoing racism. It also very personally deals with the author’s emotions regarding this legacy. This is the work of establishing these deeds as an ongoing, living part of America’s being.”

Co-director of the Creative Writing Program at UC Santa Cruz, Yamashita received a 2011 California Book Award in the Fiction category for her novel I Hotel, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. I Hotel also won the American Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association Award, and the Association for Asian American Studies Book Award.

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