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Reviewed by Raanan Geberer for Readers' Favorite
Nisei by J.J. White tells the story of Hideo, or Bobby, Takahashi, a young Hawaii-born Japanese-American, and his adventures during World War II, as revealed in a memoir that his son discovers after his death and his son’s reaction. Unlike the Japanese on the West Coast, the Hawaiian Nisei were basically left alone—with some exceptions. Bobby’s family is one of those exceptions, since his father sent scrap iron home to Japan until the eve of the war and some drawings Bobby made of Pearl Harbor found their way into the hands of Japanese pilots. Soon, the family is sent to a series of mainland internment camps. Bobby had hoped to marry his sweetheart, a white Hawaiian, but her parents now forbid it. Instead, his father forces him to marry the Japanese-born Chiyoko, whose family knew his in Japan, and who’s a bit of a trollop. Bobby finally gets the opportunity to enlist in a Japanese-American regiment and prove his loyalty, but his troubles are just beginning—his sergeant is Big Eddie, a huge Hawaiian bully who terrorized him during his teens.
White is an excellent writer, and he’s one of the few fiction writers who basically follows the rules of brevity laid out by my journalism professor—three sentences per paragraph, 30 words per sentence. I was fascinated by his recreation of Hawaiian Pidgin, a dialect that islanders frequently use, even those who are educated. Nisei also has great historical detail—I always wondered about the relationship between Hawaiian-born Japanese and California-born Japanese in the World War II army, and this book provides the answer. Above all, I must applaud J.J. White for getting a handle on the Japanese-American culture. For those who are interested in the story of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Nisei is a must-read. An excellent book.