Silver Like Dust: One Familys Story of Japanese Internment

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July 7th, , pm. Kimi Cunningham Grant's Silver Like Dust: One Family's Story of America's Japanese Internment Pegasus Books, is about the author's grandmother, framed thoughtfully by the story of how the author went about collecting stories from her Obaachan over a series of visits.

Silver Like Dust Livre audio | Kimi Cunningham Grant |

I have not read too widely in Japanese American internment literature and history though I understand that it is a key historical moment for Asian Americans and for the field of Asian American Studies. What I have read is mostly the short stories Hisaye Yamamoto and poetry Lawson Inada, Mitsuye Yamada by survivors of the war imprisonment camps--the writing that forms a core of the Asian American literary canon.

There are many wonderful historical studies of the camps, too, that explore different facets of Japanese American experience during the war. Grant's book is interesting to me because it is first and foremost a family memoir.

Publisher's Summary

It is the story of a hapa granddaughter, a young woman in her early twenties who grew up mostly disconnected from a strong sense of her Japanese American identity in small town Pennsylvania where she was one of a handful of non-white people along with her mother and brother. The journey that Grant undertakes in interviewing Obaachan, then, is as much about discovering this aspect of her racial and cultural identity that she had not given much thought to as a child.

Silver Like Dust: One Family's Story of America's Japanese Internment

There is a tension here between reclaiming a racial identity that is biologically rooted--inheritable--and holding to a more individualistic sense of identity. Even as Grant names certain traits of her Obaachan as decidedly Japanese, even as Obaachan herself does so for example in the discussion of the concept of shikataganai , a Japanese sense of fatalism , Grant acknowledges that there are contradictions to these expressions of cultural sensibilities as with the no-no boys who did not accept things as they were in the camps and refused to swear allegiance to the United States.

Another aspect of the book that I found intriguing was the exploration of intergenerational connections and disconnections, something that I know others have considered with respect to internment. The silence of the interned generations has a ripple effect to the children of those internees and then to the grandchildren.

Grant's book begins in the prologue with an explanation of how Grant herself first heard about her maternal grandparents' imprisonment for being Japanese. Her mother whispers it to her, almost as a confession, as something shameful and not to be discussed.

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It is clear in the book, too, that Grant's mother has not heard much about Obaachan's experience in the camps nor has asked her for those stories. Grant's distance--in time, in generation, in racial identity--seems necessary for uncovering those stories.

Silver Like Dust

And even then, as Grant chronicles in the book, her grandmother remains reticent about much of her experience. An unnerving thriller of small-town roots, where loyalty, love, trust, and family can trap a person on a path of tragedy.

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She is a two-time winner of a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Prize in Poetry and a recipient of a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship in creative nonfiction. She lives, writes, and teaches in Pennsylvania.

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