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Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese American Internment Camps Paperback – Apr 20 2005


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In the midst of the complicated jumble of waterways and islands of Puget Sound, there is a slice of rural America called Vashon Island, just a twenty-minute ferry ride from Seattle. Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 39 reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
A Must Read June 8 2005
By Patricia Lewis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Looking Like the Enemy is a not-to-be forgotten book. I savored every word and image as I tried to imagine how I would feel in Mary's Matsuda's shoes as a teenager imprisoned by her own government simply because of her parent's ancestry.

Mary's writing is so vivid and she makes the internment come alive as she shares her thoughts and feelings at being plunged into this terrible situation. While her anger and fear are so real, so also is the hope that her mother in particular, instills in the family.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to better understand our history and also racial discrimination. In our world today when many are punishing those who "look like the enemy", may this book serve as a lesson to us all.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Disturbing but inspirational. A great read! May 22 2005
By Leslie D. Helm - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
There are many books about the internment camp experience, but none have the emotional power and narrative drive of Mary Matsuda Gruenwald's book "Looking Like the Enemy." By sharing with us her personal story about her time in the camps, by laying bare her feelings of anger and shame in this heart-wrenching coming-of-age story, Mary Matsuda shows us what it is like to be torn from your community and friends for no good reason. Reading her book, I cannot help but think of the similar experiences now faced by Muslims in our country. The fact that we were wrong to imprison the Japanese-American populationis intellectually undeniable. Mary Matsuda shows us that same truth, but from the heart. And she show us how, with courage, it is possible to overcome the worst of experiences and still maintain ones dignity. This should be required reading for all of us and our children. The book lays bare a shameful chapter in our country's history that we must never be allowed to forget. Best of all, it's a great read.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
vivid stories, gripping emotion, memorable book May 19 2005
By Dori Jones Yang - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was not yet born when the U.S. government decided to round up tens of thousands of Japanese-American citizens and herd them into prison camps solely because of their Japanese heritage. It was not until I was an adult that I even heard of the internment camps. Yet after reading this book, Looking Like the Enemy, I feel as though I myself had been locked behind that barbed wire, feeling the depression and despair of an uncertain future.

The author was seventeen when she was imprisoned - old enough to understand the implications, young enough to rage at the injustice. Her own government, to which she pledged allegiance daily in school, imprisoned her without cause. In this book, she exposes the raw emotions - fear, anger, worry, doubt - that she felt during those formative years of her life, and tells vivid stories I will never forget. She persevered and endured, strengthened by the wisdom of her mother.

The book has changed me profoundly; I will never look at the removal of civil liberties in the same way again.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Strongly recommended to all Americans Jan. 27 2007
By Elizabeth A. Root - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Even if one is aware of the internment of the American Japanese, I doubt that most people can form any real idea of what it was like without reading a personal chronicle like this. It is difficult to express how painful it is to read, and I already knew the basic story. Sure, now we know that it didn't turn into a second Holocaust, but the people in the camps didn't have that comforting foreknowledge. One needs to be reminded that although the intense portions of a tragedy may be long over with, the ramifications for the people who suffered through it can last all their lives, even for those who didn't lose everything that they had owned before the catastrophe.

Jeanne Wakatusi Houston also wrote a classic memoir: Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment, and it is well worth reading both of the books for the similarities and differences between the two experiences. Houston was perhaps 8 or 10 years younger than Mary Matsuda, and her family dynamics were quite different, so they really complement one another. Being older, Mary Matsuda had to confront personally and directly issues that Jeanne Wakatusi Houston didn't, although of course her family members did. JWH tells us more about her life after the camps; MMG ends her books in 1945, with only an afterword summarizing the later lives of the Matsudas.

I found the book very vivid. I could easily imagine how I would feel having to destroy so much family history, even being afraid to keep a set of dolls lest it add fuel to the anti-Japanese fervor. And I feel that I have some inkling of what it was like to live for years under constant strain, not knowing what would come next, or if it would ever end. I was close to crying at points, which is unusual for me. The Matsudas lived on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound, which should make the book all the more interesting to fans of Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel.

The book includes a bibliography, a glossary and numerous black-and-white photographs of the Matsudas and the camps.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Wow! What a story, what a book! May 9 2006
By Robert Hutchings - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
For sixty years, Mary Matsuda Gruenewald chose not to talk about her experiences in the Japanese-American internment camps during the Second World War. Forced into those camps as a confused, na?ve seventeen-year-old, she was unable to comprehend her situation, and until the early twenty-first century was not prepared to explore this region of her personal - and her country's - history. When in her seventies, her children grown, her parents and brother gone, she finally admitted to herself the importance of stepping beyond "the self-imposed barbed-wire fences" (p. x) and telling her story.

Mary Matsuda moved to Puget Sound with her family at the age of two, in 1927. She and her older brother, Yoneichi, aged four, were American citizens by birth. Her parents had emigrated from Japan, but due to complex and unforgiving American immigration laws at the time, they remained Japanese citizens. Life on Vashon Island was "idyllic," (p. 1); her family rented a small strawberry farm which they worked; Mary and her brother attended the local school and church; and all the residents were friendly and warm-hearted. There were only a handful of Japanese on the island, and Mary was one of the few in her schoolhouse, but rarely were any in her family victims of prejudice.

In December 1941, the Matsuda family trembled as they listened to radio broadcasts of the Pearl Harbor bombings. Though their neighbors and friends gathered around them in support, and though they were loyal residents, citizens, and believers in America, they were concerned the government might move against them. They burned all their cultural belongings; all their records, all their dolls, and all their photographs. The only Japanese item they did not burn was her parents' copy of the New Testament. They hoped to prove their loyalty, but on May 16, 1942, they were forced off the island and taken to an internment camp.

The camp, like two others they would also stay at, was small and squalid. Their living quarters consisted of a twenty by twenty-four foot room, shared with a couple they had never met. There were no furnishings, save a hard cot for each; few windows; and only the thinnest walls separating them from the other interns. Under the menacing watch of armed soldiers, they ate lousy meals in a cacophonous mess hall, went to the bathroom in unenclosed, primitive facilities, slept under the glare of a constant searchlight, and dealt with numerous other indignities.

The greatest struggle, however, was psychological. Questions haunted her during her entire experience. Was she going to die? What would happen to her parents if she did? Was she Japanese, a bomber of Pearl Harbor, or American, a supporter of imprisonment? In 1943 every intern received a questionnaire, asking among other things whether they would swear loyalty to the United States. This questionnaire split the camps between those who wished to protest the actions of the government against them, and vote no; and those who wished to be seen as loyal to the United States above all. The Japanese view of a family crumbled under the weight of the questionnaire and camp life in general; children talked back to their parents, they played cards and went dancing, they protested and swore, and their parents began harshly and publicly criticizing them for it. Mary Matsuda agonized over the effect on the older population and wondered what was right. With her world changed and her naivet? shattered, she did not understand any longer what was right or wrong, or true or false, or, put simply, what she should do.

Throughout her time in the camps, she and her family continued making the best of the situation. They made friends, they played go, they gathered shells and went for walks. When Yoneichi was given the opportunity to apply for the draft, he did so, and eventually left to fight in Italy. Mary volunteered for the Army Nurse Corps and trained in Iowa, though the war ended before she would go abroad. Unlike others, her parents maintained their stoic, utterly Japanese view on life despite the camps' hardships. When the war ended, her family returned to the farm in Washington. They re-assimilated into American society, changed but as dedicated as ever to life in America.

Mary Matsuda Gruenewald's moving narrative is a masterpiece of reflection. Her simple yet elegant manner underlies her soft-spoken personality, and her prose is smooth and even. She is a vivid storyteller; her memories come to life under her hand and implant themselves in the reader, as if they were the reader's memories and not her own.

The strength of her work is not in the description as one might expect, however. Instead, it lies in her extraordinary exploration of her own psychology as an intern. She notes, "as I reflect on all that happened, I am reminded of a book, The Trial, by Franz Kafka" (p. x). She compares her experiences to the character in that book, accused of a crime he does not understand. Indeed, the journey through her life feels like Kafka. One can sense the vagueness, the fog, the unknown all around. She asks questions that get no answers, even today after sixty years. She expresses emotions and fears, both rational and irrational, and which all people have known at some point.

She also proves herself extremely adept at drawing upon her Japanese upbringing, and using that to frame her discussion of the camps. She regularly refers to life on Vashon Island before the War, describing how her mother was subordinate but so important to her father, how her brother was to be head of the family and all the responsibilities that entailed, and how she was taught to be a good woman and wife. She sprinkles stories her mother told her, old Japanese myths and legends, throughout her narrative. She tells of the simple joys of going to her favorite restaurant in Seattle's Japantown with her father after an appointment with the optometrist. In essence, her story is supremely personal, an honest and poignant depiction of her life.

While the text overall is an incredible piece, there are a few areas she might have improved. As a reader, one recognizes that much of the dialogue in her story did not occur word for word in actuality. Her manufacture of dialogue is no doubt intended both for readability and to humanize the story. Unfortunately, it comes across as very contrived. One can see how such a conversation may have taken place, but one cannot even begin to imagine two people talking in so forced a fashion.

Another area of concern is repetition. Her six-page conversation with Zola Lenz beginning on page 96 consists entirely of information she has already presented in earlier pages. While the importance of describing this interview to the reader is beyond doubt, she could have done so in a paragraph or two and been just as clear.

Lastly, she strays far beyond just her experiences as a camp intern, instead discussing in detail life after the war. While it provides a great human-interest story, the reader does not need to know about her mother's death, or her brother's thoughts on the war, to learn about life in the internment camps. For that, they are unnecessary, and weaken the overall relevancy of her work. This reader must admit, however, that strength of narrative aside, her story was so compelling he was glad to read about their lives after they returned home.

Mary Matsuda Gruenewald's story is a touching disclosure of her life in the internment camps. Certainly as a historical memoir on an unfairly neglected subject, it is brilliant. Despite a few minor flaws in prose, I highly recommend to this book to anyone, whether historian or no. It is a treasure that readers will long remember and appreciate.


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