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Saturday, May 18, 2013

KP Kollenborn – What Inspired Me to Write My Book

What Inspired Me to Write My Book

by KP Kollenborn

When I was fourteen I came across a book, called Kim/Kimi, about a young girl searching for her real father, who was Japanese-American, only to discover he had been imprisoned in an American internment camp during WWII.  I had never heard of these camps up to that point in my life.  In Europe, yes; even China, but not here.  Not in America.  I had to know and therefore went to the library to begin my journey.  Three years later I put together a 30 minute mini-documentary for a class project and then wrote a short story.  Nine years later I expanded that story into a novel.  Why?  I don’t have any Japanese ancestry in my family tree.  I live in the Midwest and grew-up in a medium size town where cultural diversity is a bit underdeveloped.  My reason is simple:  I don’t want to continue to live in a conical world.  Consciousness does not develop and mature by existing in a frozen pond.  Therefore after I had graduated college in 2000, my husband and I drove to Bainbridge Island, just on the tail skirt of Seattle, Washington, to pursue my journey.  I had already had made a couple of contacts to set up interviews; contacts I found researching on the internet.

My first interview was with a dentist, Frank, who is a Sansei.  Frank, much to my surprise, was tremendously open about his experiences; from what he could remember since he was only two when he and his family were evacuated. He remembered the “ping-ping-ping” sounds of the train transporting them to a place where there were rumors of large mosquitoes awaiting them there to suck them dry.  He remembered chasing tumbleweeds down the dusty streets.  And the time he became stuck in the mud, being too small to get himself out, crying until one of his uncles popped him out, leaving his boots rooted in the mud.

Frank was also candid about the Japanese-American community itself, including their own prejudices and insecurities as well as their resilience, because after all, as Mark Twain had simply put it: “There is a great deal of human nature in people.”  Then, with a smile, he told me that he was an extra on the movie set Snow Falling Over Cedars during the big evacuation scene, (which you can see him standing directly behind the main character as she tearfully stands on the ferry boat.)  After the interview, Frank supplied me with a long list of others who had consented to telling their stories in the past, but only three out of the list were willing to speak with me.  I took no offense given that I was a stranger.  For instance, one told me over the phone that he had no further interest in additional interviews and, to confirm his point about his past, he revealed that he had burned his army uniform after his discharge.

So, the three who had agreed were family and a good friend of Frank’s; all of whom were incredibly gracious and humble that words fail to provide justice for their sincerity.  Kay, his cousin and retired teacher, spoke to me with such ease that I felt like we had been friends for years and, ironically, had traveled through my home state once.  Lily, his sister, cooked lunch for my husband and me in her home, but I won’t go into details of how we sadly struggled trying to use chop sticks as utensils. Just won’t.  And then there was Gerald, his friend.  Not only did he and his wife take us out to dinner but also bought our meals.  (I have to admit, that was the best Thai I’ve eaten thus far!)

I chose Bainbridge Island as the setting for my novel because I wanted my characters to come from an isolated town where they felt safe and experienced minor racism.  The purpose of this was to show the aggressive chains of events that would challenge their once secure lives.  In staying true to historical fact, I researched the different communities that were sent to the internment camp, Manzanar, many came from Los Angles and other cities.  This would provide an interesting clash in the upcoming trials and tribulations for my characters.

Two years later I even made a journey to Manzanar; which survives as a historical marker.  To this day it persists to creep into my dreams now and again with its surreal beauty.  The dry desert air and its tornado-like dust devils; even in a calm wind.  The two monstrous mountain ranges that seems to make you disappear.  The rectangular residue of where the barracks use to stand. The small cemetery still exists as does the metal administration building that stands nearby the two guard posts.  Since then, Manzanar has been rebuilt, to an extent, to preserve the consequences of mass hysteria and a reminder of our accountability towards humanity.

The reason I chose Manzanar out of the other ten internment camps was influenced by two special details:  First- Manzanar was the most photographed camp; the others include Tule Lake, Minidoka, Heart Mountain, Poston, Gila River, Topaz, Granada, Rohwer and Jerome.  Photographers like Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams helped preserve the conditions of camp life and even wrote books based on their experiences.  Their hard work made it a littler easier for me to visualize and interpret these imprisonment camps to the best of my ability.  Second- although there were riots in the other camps, the one in Manzanar revealed the political clashes within their own community which then lead to the outbreak. AND, ironically, it fell on the eve of Pearl Harbor’s first anniversary.

During the Second World War it has been estimated that about 120,000 persons of Japanese origins, including children, were deported and exiled to concentration camps in America.  They lost their homes, their businesses, and their identities as human beings.  So when the question re-emerges each generation, “Does it really matter now?” we have to examine why one of the worst civil rights violations in US history continues to be undervalued and misunderstood. This is where the core of my novel emerges.

“When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.” Culminating a bitter-sweet epic and traditional coming-of-age story, ‘Eyes Behind Belligerence’ sets precedence to fear and hatred, to families torn apart, and to the calloused response of internment camps. While two Japanese-American families endure the wake of Pearl Harbor’s wrath, each member must face the most painful question of their life: Where does their loyalty stand?

Told in five parts, this novel unravels the challenges between two unlikely Nisei friends, Jim and Russell, into adulthood during the Second World War. As restrictions are imposed, (even in the safe, rural community of Bainbridge Island,) as harassments escalate, (including the F.B.I. invading their homes and deporting their fathers to Montana for espionage trials,) the fated day arrives: evacuation of all Japanese civilians. Rounded up like cattle, tagged, they are hauled to the fringes of Death Valley: Manzanar. Together they must survive racism, gang violence, and the harsh elements of the environment. Together they must prove their loyalty, especially after a tragic riot on the eve of Pearl Harbor’s anniversary. While Russell enlists in a segregated army, becoming part of one the most decorated units in U.S. history, Jim is sent to a different camp for the “No-No” boys: those who are marked disloyal. Removed from their families, they are forced to reevaluate their identities and discover, most importantly, what it means to forgive.

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Genre – Historical Fiction

Rating – R (strong language)

More details about the author & the book

Connect with KP Kollenborn on Facebook & Twitter

Blog http://kpkollenborn.blogspot.com/


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