Tuesday, February 27, 2018

THE INKER'S SHADOW, Allen Say's memoir-in-pictures of life as a Japanese boy in 1950s California


Scholastic Press
$19.99 hardcover, available now

The Publisher Says: Caldecott Medalist, Allen Say, presents a companion to his award-wining DRAWING FROM MEMORY - the story of his coming-of-age at a military academy and the discovery of what it means to be American.

For Allen Say, life as teen in Southern California was a cold existence. His father, one of the leading hamburger salesmen in Japan, ran a booming burger business, much like McDonald's, and sent Allen to an American military academy, so that his son could learn English and "become a success in life."

As the school's first and only Japanese student, he experienced immediate racism among his fellow cadets and his teachers. The other kids' parents complained about Allen's presence at the all-white school. As a result, he was relegated to a tool shed behind the mess hall. Determined to free himself from this oppression, Allen saved enough money to buy a 1946 Ford for $50 - then escaped to find the America of his dreams!

In this follow-up to DRAWING FROM MEMORY, Allen continues to reinvent himself as an author and illustrator. Melding his paintings with cartoon images and archival photos, Allen Say delivers an accessible book that will appeal to any reader in search of himself.

My Review: I don't think this book's full import will come home to you if you don't read Drawing from Memory first.

But I think I'm safe in saying that, once you've read that, you'll more than likely be ready for this one. Author Say came to the US shortly after WWII ended, and to California no less; the country that suffered a major and terrible defeat wasn't exactly the place most Californians were looking to get fresh immigrants from. The racism Author Say suffered was depicted very realistically.
My origins are in California. My father's a native of Venice, the location of that famous Beach, and I was born in Palo Alto. My mother, a Texan to her bones, paid exactly no attention to California's prejudice against Asians, called in those days "Orientals." Our housekeeper was Nisei Japanese, her husband Issei gardened. They were fixtures. We were, I was told by my mother, sharply criticized for suchlike goins-on by the racist neighbors. All of this meant nothing to me at the time, since Mitzi was a giant bundle of hugging and loving which made me happy so I wasn't interested in anything else.

It stuck in my mind, though, and seemed so weird to me. Seeing the realities of the situation presented from the sufferer's point of view was disturbing to my old-man self. All the casual dismissive racism. All the actively cruel racism. All of that hate stewing in the hearts of people. Why ever use so much strength to wish hurt and harm on those who've done nothing to you?
Author Say doesn't give any answer to this conundrum; instead, he makes it deeper as he shows the lovingkindness of the people who helped him. Not including his father. And somehow, in reading this story of events sixty years gone, I'm left knowing that he made good and also that good people made his path easier than many others' paths, and it makes no difference that I can tell in how outraged I feel. How illogical!

I'm human, I don't have to make sense.
As the story of Author Say's life in California continues to unfold, the many and various loves of his teenaged years come to mean more and more to the course of his life. The girls he adores from afar, the women he is so generously assisted by, the teachers whose unstinting generosity was fueled by the intense young artist's obvious promise. The story covers three years, but how extremely important those years are! At the end of that time, Author Say is all of eighteen. We know, those of us lucky enough to have encountered Author Say's work at least, what astoundingly valuable dividends those people's kindness has paid. Since 1972's Dr. Smith's Safari, there has been a new Allen Say-illustrated book available about every other year.

How lucky for us all that Author Allen Say left home as a teenaged boy. Japan's treasure became ours.
I only hope that the saga will continue before the inevitable loss occurs and Author Say leaves us forever.

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