When I teach "A Separate Peace" to my sophomore English students, I make every effort to immerse them into the culture of World War II on the home front. We watch "Casabalanca," Walt Disney's "Der Fuehrer's Face," the Andrews Sisters singing "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," Abbott and Costello's classic "Who's on First" routine. I show clips of Ken Burn's "The War" that talk about rationing, war bond drives, and Pearl Harbor.
Perhaps the most poignant scene is Daniel Inouye's first-hand account of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This, of course, leads to a discussion of the Japanese-American internment camps.
Detractors would say that this book sugar coats the experiences of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans who were placed in these relocation centers for much of the war. Granted, the photos do little to show the hardship and isolation of life in the camps. Even living conditions--cramped quarters, communal latrines--are not the intent of this book.
What it does show is the spirit and determination of the incarcerated to provide a sense of normalcy to their daily lives. With more than 70 photos--all but a handful in color and most of them full-page--Bill Manbo's images are a testament to the ability to retain humanity under inhumane conditions. Manbo and his family were sent to the camp at Heart Mountain in Wyoming in 1942 where these photos were taken.
Sure, there are pictures of guard towers (p. 45), the starkness of the barracks and the landscape (p. 26), and a moving image of the photographer's son clutching a barbed-wire fence at the edge of the camp.
However, most of the scenes are much more cheerful: dancers in traditional attire, parades, ice skating, residents wrestling in the sumo ring, family outings...and lots of family photos.
In addition to the photos, there are three essays: "A Youngster's Life Behind Barbed Wire," "Camera in Camp" and "Unexpected Views of the Internment." Each essay is about ten pages.
If you think you know everything about the Japanese-American internment experience, this book will shine a light in corners you haven't seen before. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED