CMP logo
Archive
A Visit to Minidoka
David Rutledge
July 15, 2015 (2)

Open Letter to the place called "Mushaboom"
TexMex Richards
30 June , 2015 (0)

TexMextern Reviews: Masculinity in the Time of Cholera
TexMex Richards
9 June , 2015 (0)

SIFF Special: Most Likely to Manipulate
David Rutledge
June 5, 2015 (0)

TexMextern Reviews: Reviews with a Zest!
TexMex Richards
2 June, 2015 (0)

A Tale of Two Noodles
Dandi Meng
11 May, 2015 (3)

It's Time We Started Talking About Endpapers
Dandi Meng
4 May, 2015 (2)

Spine Poetry
Dandi Meng
1 April, 2015 (3)

CMP Presents...12 by M. Lynch
Dandi Meng
10 March, 2015 (2)

Week of Literary Love: Bartleby the Scrivener
Dandi Meng
14 February, 2015 (0)

Week of Literary Love: Jean Valjean
Cali Kopczick
13 February, 2015 (0)

Week of Literary Love: Winnie-the-Pooh
Dandi Meng
11 February, 2015 (0)

Week of Literary Love: Katniss Everdeen
Dandi Meng
10 February, 2015 (0)

Week of Literary Love: Holden Caulfield
Dandi Meng
9 February, 2015 (0)

Literary Showdown: Seattle vs. Boston
Dandi Meng
3 February , 2015 (2)

It's Time We Started Talking About Section Break Markers
Cali Kopczick
19 December, 2014 (2)

Short Run Festival Recap
Cali Kopczick
November 26, 2014 (0)

Selling Culture: Japan and America’s Trickiest Trade
Cali Kopczick
November 7, 2014 (0)

History's Bestsellers in Translation Part II: Nonfiction
Cali Kopczick
October 20, 2014 (0)

China/Seattle/Reykjavík: Ryan Boudinot on Seattle as a Global City of Literature
Cali Kopczick
October 8, 2014 (0)

BuzzFeed Article - 8 Reasons Japanese Ghosts Make Terrible Roommates
Cali Kopczick
September 23, 2014 (0)

History's Bestsellers in Translation Part I: Fiction
Cali Kopczick
September 9, 2014 (0)

Ramen Revisited: Tips from Ken Taya aka Enfu
Cali Kopczick
September 2, 2014 (0)

Kodawari Can Render the Prosaic Profound
Cali Kopczick
August 27, 2014 (0)

Before the Summer Runs Out: A Road Trip Proposal
Cali Kopczick
August 19, 2014 (12)

The High Art of Smelling Books
Cali Kopczick
August 4, 2014 (1)

Pike Place Location Opening and Lizard Telepathy Fox Telepathy Open House
Staff
July 28, 2014 (1)

Indie Book Publisher Opens Office/Retail Space in Seattle’s Pike Place Market
Press Release
July 16, 2014 (0)

Q&A with "A Commonplace Book of Pie" Author Kate Lebo and Illustrator Jessica Lynn Bonin
David Jacobson
Oct. 9, 2013 (0)

A Broadside for Mardi Gras
Bruce Rutledge
February 12, 2013 (0)

Oprah Outs Armstrong; Irvin Mayfield Next?
Rex Noone
January 26, 2013 (0)

Friends of CMP
Bruce Rutledge
November 21, 2012 (0)

Nippon-NOLA challenge: week 3
Bruce Rutledge
October 24, 2012 (2)

The NOLA-Nippon challenge: week 2
Bruce Rutledge
October 6, 2012, 2012 (0)

The NOLA-Nippon challenge
Bruce Rutledge
September 24, 2012 (2)

Infusing Nonfiction with Truth: American True Stories
Bruce Rutledge talks to Michael Rozek
June 29, 2012 (1)

Questions rain down on NOLA
Bruce Rutledge
June 18, 2012 (0)

En-Joying Kanji: A Review of Eve Kushner’s Joy o’ Kanji
David Jacobson
May 24, 2012 (1)

Michael Rozek Redefines Nonfiction
Bruce Rutledge
April 19, 2012 (3)

Viewed Sideways: a collection of essays by Donald Richie
D. Michael Ramirez II
December 30, 2011 (0)

New Orleans Book Fest
Bruce
November 4, 2011 (0)

Review: The Beautiful One Has Come (Suzanne Kamata)
D. Michael Ramirez II
August 12, 2011 (0)

The JET Program's Finest Hour
David Jacobson
July 9, 2011 (0)

And the winner is ...
Bruce Rutledge
July 5, 2011 (0)

An even dozen: slow books in a fast world
Bruce Rutledge
June 29, 2011 (1)

Last Chapter for an Island Bookstore?
David Jacobson
June 24, 2011 (0)

More than just another 'Kawaii' face
Bruce Rutledge
June 16, 2011 (0)

Hurricane Story - Free Offer!
Dave Jacobson
June 9, 2011 (0)

Books for Katrina-hit New Orleans Schools
David Jacobson
May 25, 2011 (0)

Todd Shimoda wins Hawaii's top literary award
Chin Music Press
April 12, 2011 (1)

"The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P": A Review
Will Eells
March 28, 2011 (0)

A great sorrow
Bruce Rutledge
March 25, 2011 (1)

Blog Entry
A Visit to Minidoka
David Rutledge
July 15, 2015

A cold rain was falling when we pulled into the parking lot of Minidoka.  Although this WWII internment camp is managed by the National Park Service, there is no visitor center, there are no guides.  When we visited, there were no people.  The entrance is marked by a guard tower – a clean-looking structure next to the canal that once bordered the camp.

Sun Gods

There is a path, about 1.6 miles that wanders through desert.  One walks the gravel path, imagining that this place contained so many Japanese living in the U.S. – including according to one sign, anyone with as little as 1/16th Japanese blood.  While walking, I was glad for the slight rain and the clouds, the absence of the relentless heat this area often suffers in the summer. 

One can see some remnants of buildings that were there when the Japanese-Americans were forced to live in this desolate location.  One sign tells us that Minidoka was once the seventh largest town in Idaho, with some 13,000 people.  As I walked the path through the camp, trying to imagine it populated by so many people, what I felt most strongly was a pervasive sense of emptiness.  On most of the walk, all one sees is the recreated barbed wire fence, scrub brush, and vast distances.

The only reminder of the individuals who lived here are a couple of buildings, and markers where buildings once were, plus three or four places where visitors can press a button and hear the voice of a man or woman who was once a resident of Minidoka.  These voices come out of small speakers, speaking about their lives in the camp, but the voices are often unheard in the vast desert.  The wind is often louder than the recordings. A visit to Minidoka gives one a sense that so much of the story is missing, that so much of what people experienced here is lost.

I write this not to give a history lesson, but to pay tribute to the book that inspired an eight-hour drive from Portland to Minidoka: Jay Rubin’s The Sun Gods. Here is a novel that brings to life the world of this internment camp.  He captures the setting of the camp, the harsh weather, the impersonal forces that led to the existence of the camp; most importantly, he captures life in Minidoka.  It is Rubin’s ability to show this life that convinced me to make that eight-hour drive.

Note: there will be no spoilers in this blog post.  I would like to write a more detailed tribute to this novel, about how accurate it is to the place and time, but for now I will be careful not to ruin anything.  When one visits the place, one can envision the events of the novel, as if the existence of those fictional characters can help one to imagine those past lives in the present-day desert.

So far I have been referring to Minidoka as an internment camp, but it would be more accurately termed a concentration camp.  “Ever since Pear Harbor, they have been doing strange things with words,” states one character (pg. 181).  Not only is it a concentration camp, it is a deep stain on the so-called “greatest generation.”  That is my opinion.  Rubin, however, is never so blunt, never so didactic.  The book is careful not to turn history into “an abstraction, a symbol” (357).  Some characters have their philosophical moments, but the novel is content with depicting those characters, those moments, leaving the interpretation of events up to the reader. 

My interpretation is that racism only exists as an abstraction.  The most moral action a human can do is to keep things human, rather than abstract.

The book and this historical moment could both be read as an indictment of “Christian civilization” (285).  This brings to mind another recent great novel, Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda.  Both novels raise serious questions about Christianity and Western culture.  Both offer an alternative view that includes more reverence for nature.  Both do so by depicting lives, people.  Neither is preachy.  Perhaps that is the point.

One character of Rubin’s novel suggests that the abstraction of Christianity is “a vain attempt to make what was already holy seem holier” (260).  Rubin and Boyden both powerfully depict the “holy” in everyday life.

In 2014 Boyden’s book was the winner of Canada Reads, a competition that chose “one novel that could change Canada.”  If there were something called “The United States Reads,” I would nominate Jay Rubin’s The Sun Gods.



Comments
Number of comments: 2
click to add a comment

Lee Witte
Beautifully written and thought provoking, especially "The most moral action a human can do is to keep things human, rather than abstract."

Jo Reed
Kind of ironic to see the maneki-neko ("welcoming cat") on the cover, as if beckoning the interned to come into the camp.