Gaijin: American Prisoner of War, by Matt Faulkner ISBN 9781423137351
Five out of five stars
There is a history of government sanctioned discrimination in the United States that must be acknowledged and resolved, yet where many would rather just ignore it. Or even repeat it. One of the most significant, yet fortunately brief was the internment of Japanese-Americans immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a time of hysteria, greed, irrationality and overt racism. Gaijin is the Japanese word for non-Japanese, it literally means “outside person” and this graphic novel deals with the time of internment.
Koji is the son of a white mother and a Japanese man and he has just celebrated his thirteenth birthday when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Koji’s father was in Japan visiting a sick relative when the war started, so Koji has no idea as to his condition. This book is based on a true story and Koji immediately discovers that he is considered Japanese by the whites and a gaijin by the Japanese-Americans. Refused the basic services such as riding on a trolley, Koji and his mother are forcibly placed in an internment camp.
Persecuted themselves, the other Japanese-American boys harass and bully Koji to the point where he has reached his limit and engages in dangerous behaviors. Fortunately, the war does end, things generally return to normal and the internment camps are closed.
This novel captures the irrational rise of hatred against loyal American citizens of Japanese descent that took place when World War II came to America. It was a time when formerly friendly neighbors became vultures in taking over the possessions of interned Japanese-Americans and they could not walk the streets without being harassed. It captures a historical event that must be kept within the active mind of history, for we see some aspects of that recurring in the 2016 election in the United States. This is a book that could be used as a supplement to history courses about the domestic situation in the United States in World War II.