Book Review: Sad pieces of Idaho’s past

Book AddictsNovember 2, 2013 

  • ‘SURVIVING MINIDOKA: THE LEGACY OF WWII JAPANESE AMERICAN INCARCERATION’ edited by Russell M. Tremayne and Todd Shallot; Boise State University ($37.95)

    ‘MINIDOKA: AN AMERICAN CONCENTRATION CAMP’ by Teresa Tamura; Caxton Press ($27.95)

Synopses: In “Minidoka: An American Concentration Camp,” Teresa Tamura documents one of 10 such camps — the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Jerome County.

Her documentation includes artifacts made in the camp as well as the story of its survivors, uprooted from their homes in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California. The essays are supplemented by 180 black-and-white photographs and interviews that fuse present and past.

Ultimately, her book reminds us of what happens when fear, hysteria and racial prejudice subvert human rights and shatter human lives.

The 1942 wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans forced 120,000 people to abandon their property and homes. Most were American citizens.

“ ‘Surviving Minidoka’ is a history book about the present as much as the past,” said series editor Melissa Lavitt, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs at Boise State University.

“This is not a book about camp life,” said co-editor Todd Shallot. “It is an art book and a tribute. It is a book about how an event shaped race relations more than a story about the event itself.”

My take: I chose to highlight both of these books because they document a part of Idaho history that many would like to ignore or forget and are written from two unique viewpoints.

While both books tell stories of the people who lived at Minidoka, in “Minidoka: an American Concentration Camp” you get a historical perspective of the people incarcerated there.

Their narratives, accompanied by photos, both old and current, relay their personal viewpoints, then continue with a recounting of the paths their lives took after they left. These recitations, culled from newspaper accounts and personal interviews, are brief and compelling.

In “Surviving Minidoka,” the creators grasped what Aristotle meant by “the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance,” and concentrated on the effect Minidoka had on individuals as shown through personal photos, art and poetry.

The stories are in-depth, giving a perspective of the fire Minidoka set that fueled its residents’ later accomplishments.

Despite the beautiful photography, this book, with its wealth of data and documentation, reads more like a report, and was saved only by the personal stories that put heart in the book.

My rating: Both are beautiful books, well worth owning, if for no other reason than to remind ourselves that what happened once could happen again if we don’t learn from the past.

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