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Imperfect Circles

PDF To Sarah, her bi-racial heritage has long been a burden. She identifies more with her mother’s close-knit European-American family than with her father’s Asian one – divided by circumstance that, as a teenager, she has little interest in discerning or understanding. Until a once in a lifetime reunion with her Japanese-American relatives sparks her curiosity and sends Sarah on a search for her lost roots that will occupy her for years.

Tracing her family back to her great-grandfather, Sarah attempts to unravel the complicated web of her family history, made difficult by her relatives’ reticence or inability to speak about the past. “If only I could alleviate my grandfather’s fear that I would treat his memory in a careless way, judging before considering them with reverence”, Sarah says. It was a sentiment I shared, the more I read of her family’s experiences during World War II and beyond, as some of them suffered the indignation of interment.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, 110,000 people of Japanese heritage living on the West Coast were moved out of areas designated as “military zones” by President Roosevelt, by Executive Order 9066 into internment camps. Sixty-two percent of them were American citizens. Others, like Sarah’s great-grandparents, were first generation immigrants, or Issei – ineligible for American citizenship. With the approval of the American government and the War Relocation Authority, generations of Japanese families lost everything, including, for many, their pride. When the war was over, the majority had nothing to move back to.

As Sarah combs through the stories of her relatives she begins to build a narrative of her family’s history, and learns more than she ever intended to in the process, including some things about herself. The author is a psychotherapist, and this is beautifully evident as she explores the ways each generation has been impacted by a single event. As a member of the fourth generation, Yonsei, it is suggested that she is among those who have a desire to know her history, and therefore the narrative of her own life story provided a satisfying continuity that bound those of her family together.

I am curious to know how she received a few of these narratives, which weren’t presented as though related to her, and for which she was not present. However, everything has a place here, including her father’s and grandmother’s mental illness – the story that affected me the most. ‘Imperfect Circles’ is an incredibly moving memoir covering experiences too often overlooked in an important period of history. Americans enjoy seeing themselves as the heroes of World War II, but without disparaging the good that was done, we can’t overlook the mistakes made, which is all too often the case. Sarah invites us into her family’s past so completely that you will be unable to help wondering what happened next when you put the book down.
- Hollywood Book Reviews

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