Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Purple Heart: A Love Story by Vincent Yee

The story is kicked off by two grandchildren of Japanese American World War II veterans, both of whom (for different reasons) know little about their family history- or this important moment in American history. Aiko Satoh then begins a journey to uncover who her grandfather was, but as she delves into her family's story, the reader also gets a sense of what the Japanese American community was.

Through memory and memories within memories, we see the journey the original Japanese immigrants made to the United States, get a taste of both their hard work and the racism that simmered under the surface, the heartbreak and dread many experienced the day of Pearl Harbor and the way many took advantage of their desperation. We appreciate how lives were paused without regard for human dignity. And we see the heartbreaking effects of the mental torture Japanese Americans suffered upon "questioning".

Many of the older generation recognized immediately that they were in danger, but the younger characters come to that slow realization in the form of a malevolent soldier. But we also see the respect that other soldiers came to have for their prisoners once they worked- and played- with them as a community.

The most quietly poignant moment was when a character remembered playing an "All American" sport. For me, that little moment highlighted how real- and simple- the aspirations of many from that generation were. That the character could take those aspirations and use it to help not just himself but also his community was one of the most uplifting in the book.

We also see the rigors of training and the horrors of war. The battle scenes are intense, but the camaraderie that develops between the soldiers is inspiring. Yee does an excellent job of showing each soldiers' different personality- and implying the reasons he may have signed up.

While the romance between Hiroshi and Minami is one of the sweetest I've ever read, the "love story" is a little different from many other romances. It emanates from a sacrifice one man made not only for his beloved wife, but also for his family, other Japanese Americans and ultimately all other Americans. And it's a love story that could be told of many real-life veterans, and for many years it was unrequited. While many steps have been taken to rectify that, the author reminds us at the end that the prejudice which forced the issue still lingers, and sadly remains evident in today's armed services.

An excellent book for anyone who wants to explore an important chapter in US History.

Buy from Brookline Booksmith

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