Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dolphins

PB invited me to join him last Sunday to watch documentary on the US incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Part of the 11th Annual Peace Film Festival, organized by Yumi Tanaka and a band of volunteers, Resistance at Tule Lake (2017) by Konrad Aderer was less about the resistance than about the remembrance of this infamous episode of American history. Tule Lake camp was where those who refused to answer, or answered no-no to, the government's loyalty questionnaire were sent. There was a special segregation center inside the camp for those judged especially resistant or disloyal. The government also mounted a campaign to persuade the prisoners of all ten concentration camps to give up their US citizenship and be deported to Japan, even though most of them had never seen that country. Fearful and angry, many Tule Lake camp inmates joined the pro-Japan faction called the Hoshi-dan. The film showed them running in squads and doing other physical exercises to train themselves up to be fit for Japan. With the exception of one incident, when inmates refused to obey an order and were sent to stand outside in the wintry cold, some in their underwear, the film was stronger, more interesting, about the split in allegiances among the prisoners. It is a split that has haunted generations of Japanese Americans after the war.

Read two of the books bought at AWP. The Affliction by C. Dale Young is a set of intricately interlinked stories, narrated by the same person whose identity we only discover at the end. What I like most about the book is the use of the trope of disappearance for being gay, for exile from family and community, and finally, for death. The magic realism of the plot does not color the style much. The language is workmanlike. Better known as a poet, Young's prose is, well, rather prosaic. Here's the opening paragraph:

No one would have believed Ricardo Blanco if he had tried to explain that Javier Castillo could disappear. What was the point in trying to explain it to someone, explain how he had seen it himself, how he had watched as Javier Castillo stared deeply as if he were concentrating and then, slowly, disappeared. Ricardo always began the explanation in the same way, by stating that it wasn't a sudden thing, that no, no, it was gradual thing that took sometimes as long as three minutes.

Too many iterations of "explain." Overly familiar language such as "stared deeply" and "always began the explanation in the same way." Vagueness in "someone," "a sudden thing," "a gradual thing." Should the verb "stating" have any place in a novel if the character is not making a police statement? A human who can disappear and reappear somewhere else is a miracle, but the language fails to convey the miraculous.

The other book was a short novel Lion Cross Point by Masatsugu Ono, translated by Angus Turvil. Published by the independent press Two Lines, it is also about abandonment by a parent, but Ono brings the reader right into the experience of the trauma. The language, as translated, is spare, and so gives lots of room for breathing and imagining. Not much happens, but what happens is elemental. The betrayal of loved ones. The kindness of strangers. And the enormous hope one can invest in a healing dolphin.

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