This is one of those novels you know the critics will adore. It's written in a different way, there is no main character, it's almost a book of linked sentences (though all books are that. I have no idea how to describe the writing.) Everything is a statement. Every sentence is structured the same way *for most of the book.* And that's where I dropped a star.
The group of Japanese women who narrate in a third-person "god's eye" sort of way for most of the book are the main characters of this book. They are young and naive when the book opens, all on the lower decks of a ship bringing them to America - these "picture brides." Idealistic, if conflicted, they believe their lives will be better in the US, despite their fears and concerns about loud, giant, hairy, smelly Americans. They're on the way to live with the Japanese men who have built the American dream in San Francisco early in the 20th century. When they get here, those men aren't all they represented themselves to be.
The women go from young brides to farm laborers to house maids to mothers, and then the tone shifts and we no longer hear the story from the group of Japanese women. Instead a nameless white woman (or women?) takes up their tale. She explains that they've disappeared, and for a while they think about these Japanese workers who were just here, until they don't anymore.
When the women become mothers, the structure starts to change. Sentences get longer and there are no more statement followed by statement lists. By the time the white women start to tell the story, it's no longer that tight, rigid and entrancing structure. Instead it becomes more like regular prose. I didn't like that change. And with our main "character" gone, I felt like a door had been slammed.
Now, all of that could mean that the author did exactly what she meant to do. These people were lost when they were imprisoned during the war. They couldn't speak for themselves, and apparently nobody cared to speak for them, plus white women don't speak like Japanese women in this book, this place or this era. Perhaps the nameless white women taking up the story or lack thereof represented exactly what it was supposed to. I don't know. I just know that it felt abrupt (like the move into the camps itself) and cold (again, like the actual history.) Then it ended, which isn't like history.
I am incredibly impressed with this sad tale. I just wish it had stayed in that format or given me more to hang onto through what was, in many ways, the most crucial point in the book: the end. Why could we no longer hear from the Japanese women? I know they disappeared, but we heard their private thoughts before that. Anyway, it's interesting and very short. Worth a read, if only so you can tell me why I'm wrong.